Rob Priestly shares thoughts on leadership

By Reader Contributed

Rob Priestly has developed a leadership profile in Shepparton through his work with the Committee for Greater Shepparton.

He offered his thoughts on leadership at the launch of the 2019 Fairley Leadership program in Shepparton recently.

All over the world regions outside of the big cities are mostly getting a pretty crap deal. Mostly, they no longer have an economic or political voice.

They receive substandard services, often have lost the right to make their own decisions and their children are locked out of opportunity and employment by poor access to education, transport and health.

This is a global trend, at the root of Trumpism and Brexit, where regional people have become angry at becoming second-class citizens in their own country.

This is the trend, but its not true everywhere. By luck, our region is much better off than many, and can be one of the exceptions. We have industries that can thrive in the future. We are capable of being well connected to one of the best cities in the wold, and we have strong local leadership.

Your job, cohort 2019, - as our future leaders, is to work on our problems in two ways:

The first: solutions that get Shepparton connected to the global economy, with sufficient educational, health and recreational options to develop and keep a healthy community and work-force, that make us part of the global economy. That’s the practical right now.

The second thing you have to work on as a leader – is to come to understand the choices we face in trying to achieve that goal. When you distil it – most regions around the world are advocating to their leaders for only one thing. From UK to the US, to Italy, to Queensland to Tasmania. And it’s the wrong thing. What is the wrong thing everyone asking for?

“Make things like they used to be”.

What is trumps catch cry? ‘Make America great again’….

If you find yourself making this argument on behalf of our community, you are wasting time and effort. The world has changed. We need to come up with new ways of getting what we need. Governments are already learning that ignoring the regions is a problem, but they don’t know how to effectively help.

The regions are yet to learn how to ask for solutions that are going to help, not try to turn back the clock.

If our 2019 cohort could stand up for a minute?

So this thing you are doing-It’s a big deal.

I want you to think about the opportunity.

There are 120 odd leaders from our community here tonight – and we have chosen you to be the new leaders – you are here now beginning that journey in earnest - at the right time for you. This year you need to take your opportunities and learn to cast aside self-doubt. Get on with it and do it. There is not someone more qualified about to jump in. You’re it.

If you don’t fill the gap, we as a community are outsourcing our leadership to people outside our community, without skin in the game.

Our community has good momentum, but can’t afford for you to just keep the seat warm, because like all regions around the world that want to survive, we need to get moving and innovating.

I suspect at least some of you feel a bit anxious, slightly embarrassed; not sure that you are ready? Well get used to it – that’s what many people in leadership feel every day … that’s very normal.

All you can do is your best, I have faith that you will take up the challenge and do a great job.

So no pressure guys!

Please take a seat.

Now to your family and partners

If you’re the family or partner of one of this cohort. These guys - they need confidence and self-belief. Your support can be the difference between success and failure. Believe in them, and help them believe in themselves.

Ok, so I am going to chat a bit about my observations on leadership. To be honest I have found it pretty tough to write this speech. I don’t think I am really at all like a stereotypical leader, which is why I think Michelle contacted me. I am a pretty basic guy doing my best – but hopefully, when I’m done – I’ll have given you a few ideas on what has got me through, and hopefully you find some of them useful.

We think of great leaders as “other”, - near to perfect. It’s not ok for our leaders to be human, share their flaws,

By now – I can tell you everybody has some gaps, you cant be everything – people that appear perfect are mostly not. Even if they incredibly gifted, they only have their own life experience. No one has been everywhere and done everything.

To be a leader - you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just need to have some foundational stuff sorted out. And that’s what im going to talk about tonight.

90% of decisions as are leader are not yours to make. You are simply understanding the options and heading the advice of the smartest person on the topic.

There is a myriad of other things that will help with leadership, but are not essential, but nothing will work well unless you have these foundations sorted.

I’ve broken this into a few buckets - .

What you’ve got

What you need to get

Recognising your own strengths is not so easy as is so much part of who you are, but take a minute to work out what you have got – and then learn to use it .

You have your own life experience. Draw on your own experiences, the good and the bad – you already have some models of what good leadership looks like.

You know your own specialist area, and it not based on a theory – its lived experience. In your field – you can spot bullshit, theory from reality. Over time you will realise this is a natural place to start. When you read policy on your own area of experience – it will be easier for you to assess the merits. Starting with your own area will help you start the journey into new ones. Local knowledge, coal-face experience, and an understanding of policy options is a powerful combination.

No one from outside cares about your community like you do.

I am sure you have had the experience of sitting down with a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or another professional to get professional advice. Upon giving you their opinion you immediately know that they have failed. They are wrong, they have missed something. Despite their vast technical knowledge they have failed to think things through from your perspective, and overlooked some key aspect particular to you.

This is the same for our community. Big business, state and federal bodies will have well meaning, carefully thought out ideas, but not the nuance or practical understanding of what those changes mean for our region. You are becoming an expert on our region. If you can come to terms the technical aspects of the policy – you will easily hold your own.

Now let’s talk about some things you need.

Understand your own bias, then start to challenge it.

Learn to treat all people as equals. we all think we know how to do that. But in reality, When we come to dealing with people who are from a different background to you, this can be really hard.

More often than not – our business state and national leadership come from a connected elite. And it’s hard for them to learn how deal with average working people as equals, but its easily done.

An example is the CEO of a local organisation here in our region. On one of the early days after he was appointed, he asked a cleaner if he could borrow a cloth to wipe up a mess on the floor in the foyer, doing it himself rather than telling a cleaner to sort it out. I have heard this story back a dozen times from people at that organisation.

In that one act he demonstrated his belief that he is not above but equal, the same. That story spread like wildfire amongst the staff:.’ OMG we have a leader that respects our work’.

While you need to be respectful you can go too far. The harder lesson is not being intimidated when talking to someone in authority. You need to be taken seriously, you need to hold them to account on behalf of your community.

Mostly our leadership - they are just like us, but with bigger problems, more pressure and less time. You have local knowledge and experience they need and don’t have time to get themselves. Make sure you understand the policy options along with local knowledge, and you are ready to have a serious discussion.

When you have this serious discussion, remember there are plenty of bad ideas, but not many bad people. Our job as a community leaders is to understand the consequences of ideas, and make sure others understand. That won’t happen if you are attacking the person not the idea.

As I already mentioned, a very poor argument to make “Make things like they used to be”. If you are not going to make that argument – what argument are you going to make?

So how do you find out what are the policy choices? What are the options government ministers are being told by their staff? To answer this - you need to read to get some context.

If small retail is slowing in every regional town everywhere, and it is – you are wasting your breath trying to make a special case here to fix small retail.

You need to read to understand - What are other regions doing? Other countries?

If you are on the right politicly, make sure you are reading articles from the left. Vice versa. Read what policy advisers are writing and reading, follow the Grattan institute, the regional Australia institute, , the Centre for Independent Studies, Lowy Institute, and my favourite - read The Economist magazine.

You don’t have to learn it all, but you must at least start to understand what you don’t know…

Ok, so we are still talking about– and challenging your own bias

You cant be an effective leader if you haven’t at least recognised your own prejudice and started to work on it.

Ok so I want you to think about a group you have a negative view?

So we all think we don’t have these ……. so im going to help you out….

Bankers are arseholes, the council are idiots, white trash are all thieves, teachers are lazy, greenies are impractical, politicians are only in for themselves, people from Melbourne are stuck up, rich people are stupid, cops are corrupt, lawyers are liars.

So hopefully now I have offended everyone equally…. And you have managed to find a little shred of prejudice.

Now think about one of those groups I mentioned, or another you thought of.

I want you to think about where you got that idea. Do you know? Is it a shared community prejudice, or a family one?

Now think about - Do you know anyone from that group well, I mean outside of their job? In my experience you can think badly of police if you have a bad experience, but its more difficult when you talk to them and understand their lives, pressures and work.

One of the most maligned groups in our community is politicians. If you hold prejudiced views about them, how are you going to make a meaningful connection on behalf of your community?

These biases will damage your ability to connect with people and influence them. There are plenty of bad ideas, but people are mostly good. We all have own blind spots (including me), but to lead, you need to go into every conversation open, not with a bag of negativity.

So, cohort 2019 – I have been wandering for a while… to sum things up:

We have big problems to solve, and big opportunities to capture. This is a great community, and we are well in front of many. But we need great leadership.

You’re it.

Take stock of what you have already got, your specialist knowledge, your community connections, your strengths etc

Set about systematically dealing with what you need to be a leader, get rid of your baggage, challenging your prejudices, build your knowledge by reading.

Keep asking yourself - am I trying to “make it like it used to be”? Because if you are, That is most likely not the answer this community needs. Your job is to help find new ways to solve these problems. The old ways are mostly not working.

You need to get pretty good at failing and not beating yourself up about it. When you fail its not your whole attempt at leadership that has failed, it’s just that one day. On my best days – I feel like I have made a difference.

But on other days I have had some unbelievable shockers.

If you are thinking:I’m not sure I can do this. You can..All I can say is do your best, Some days you succeed and some you fail. You just need to get up and try to do it better tomorrow.