Arriving in our nation's capital, our heads were still in work
mode but slowly we started to switch our thoughts to the coming
days as we exchanged ideas on hot political topics. The spring
crispness snapped us into political mode as we all speculated about
what we were going to encounter and how our politicians may receive
us and our questions. With the privilege of this opportunity,
I was primed with questions and information that I was seeking
Overall what emerged for me were four key themes - some that I
expected and some not so expected.
There were many tips and ideas that were shared with us from
officials from various levels and interests. No matter what
industry or sector we may have been representing, there would have
been ideas to implement or improve on. I found getting back
to basics and keeping to the high level when writing or presenting
your idea or policy was an important reminder as we can all get too
caught up in the detail at times to keep this at the fore.
Answering the 'so what?' question and then testing this via the
'elevator test' was essential in the political realm but also for
all of us to take away.
I was reminded of - and would like to see more - solution
focussed organisational approaches where an identified problem is
celebrated, but not dwelled on, and where emphasis is placed on the
solution. As our speakers inferred to us, a 'blame culture' is not
productive, especially in government.
In today's changing media landscape it was also interesting and
insightful to hear about the influences and changes it has brought
to modern politics. The rapid rise of social media and its
impact was a theme across all speakers and the way it has probably
caught us all off guard. A senior journalist we spoke with
described the change in our attention spans, and the need to fill
the content vacuum of the 24 hour news cycle, as a big influencer
of the current trends in media today and important for us all to be
Many of the people we spoke with couldn't underestimate the
impact that good relationship management skills had on their work
in government. Most stated when asked about the key
leadership skills in government that relationships were pivotal in
all aspects of their work. I don't think that this would be
any different from other sectors, however it reinforced the fact
that, even in today's digital space, the need to foster genuine
human relationships will probably never be redundant. The
political arena will always be a 'human' place and we can all bring
more respect and courteous behaviours into our workplaces.
I also took some excellent advice from an ex-Senior Advisor -
that bringing positivity to the table and doing the 'little things'
that make a big difference for people, goes a long way to forming
key co-beneficial relationships. This complemented other
speakers we heard from who advised that good and effective
listening was key to successful relationship building and
I also reflected on the contrast between corporate leadership;
with its control and decision making authority, and political
leadership; where the emphasis is on bringing everyone together,
effective communications and relationship building.
- State History and Tradition
I think I had underestimated the extent to which tradition
dictates much of the system and processes that we see in today's
political environment. For our group, this was demonstrated
to us as straight off the plane we visited Menzies House (the
Headquarters of the Liberal Party). Built in the 1960's -
with all the regal and stately furnishings, it was sitting at the
big round table - that had undoubtedly seen discussions (both
amicable and blood thirsty) that have shaped our recent history -
that confirmed my view of the powerful traditions at play.
This symbolism and tradition was also exhibited through the expanse
of Parliament House, as we toured the manicured gardens and walked
on the polished floors.
I thought a lot about one of the speakers comparing politics to
the judicial system and this set the scene for our time visiting
Parliament House. Despite 'Question Time' providing the element of
theatre that we are all familiar with dominating our screens.
The behaviour exhibited was inconsistent with the respect and
honest collaboration that I saw during our time in Canberra.
I do, however challenge the archaic nature of some of these
traditions, as in this modern environment some of the processes and
systems seem to be in dire need of refreshing and questioning of
The Leaders for Geelong group heard from a Brigadier in the Army
and following his insights I now hold up my own leadership
philosophy that 'the more diverse the team, the more powerful - as
long as everyone is bounded by common values'. Another
reflection that stood true with me was the importance of obtaining
contestable advice and that long-term thinking is vital in creating
opportunities for communities.
Overall, I was overwhelmed by the privileges and amount of
access we had during our time in Canberra. I highly respect
our politicians and government officials for their common purpose
and goal for Australia and respect that they have different
approaches and methodologies on how to achieve this vision.
This couldn't have been more apparent after hearing politicians Tim
Wilson and Tim Watts providing a lively and colourful debate on one
of the current issues facing the government - the plebiscite on
marriage equality. I also understand more about the mechanics
of a political party and have a lens on the political landscape
both past and present. I believe I am more engaged with
political processes and I feel that we as a community should
embrace trying to find the point of unity, not the point of
difference, when thinking about a political issue. I would
love to see everyone in our community more engaged with our
political systems and policies both at a local and national
On behalf of all the Leaders for Geelong participants in the
2016 delegation, I sincerely acknowledge the considerable amount of
work and effort that Rosemary White, Committee for Geelong's
Leadership Manager, together with James Baird and Karen Cartwright
of StratHouse, put into the logistics of this trip and I thank them
for the opportunity to participate in this aspect of the
Kerryn Lester-Smith - Leaders for Geelong 2016