A tale of two cities and my reflections on leadership

Tahlia Melsom, Westpac Scholar

Written by Talia Melsom, Westpac Scholar, 2019 Future Leader

Canberra, the heart of the nation’s political and economic affairs and home to some of Australia’s great leaders, appears surprisingly humble from above, visible only by the iconic spire of Telstra Tower piercing through the fog as if to draw the city out of hiding.

As I watch, the fog lifts slightly and the dark grey of the morning gives way to streaks of light dancing on the bright blue of Lake Burley-Griffin. The last of the buildings fade into the dusty green patchwork quilt of farms and landscape beyond and I’m left to my own thoughts for the rest of my flight. It’s midsemester break and I’m on my way to Perth to reflect and relax before the rush of exams.

I can’t help but draw comparisons between the city below and my experiences there so far as a Westpac Future Leaders Scholar and Masters’ student at the Australian National University. We have just completed the final component of our Leadership Development Program and my mind is still whirring as I ponder the last year.

Canberra, like all of us, has a front that must be broken down before one is able to see its true character and connect with those inside. It is clear a growing lack of trust makes this foggy exterior harder to cut through to the point where each institution, article, (dare I say) Tweet, is doubted for how truthful it really is.

As future leaders today, we will be required to be open and vulnerable and form real connections to begin to cure the disconnect that has emerged. The way in which we approach this kind of openness must include listening and being empathetic to the vulnerabilities of others and to empower our communities to do the same.    

In my experience, a strong sense of self, knowing what you are bringing to the table and how to communicate your ideas with others is a great strength that the best leaders share.

In February, we gathered in Sydney and heard from Cindy Carpenter, Chair of the Bread and Butter Project and former General Manager at BCG, who encouraged us to appreciate that everyone has flaws but to learn to accommodate and share these flaws in order to move past them. From that strong foundation we can “visualise and vocalise [our] biggest aspirations – and go for it!”.

We met Dr Gill Hicks, peace worker and survivor of the London bombings, in April, who inspired us to continue despite sometimes feeling lost in space - “Even if you can’t feel the ground does not mean it isn’t there”. We can learn how best to use, redefine and shape our own grounding as a platform from which we can grow.

In the last week we have been treated to insights from a smorgasbord of leaders – from Professors John Blaxland and Brendan Sargeant to Dr Nicholas Farrelly and Dr Amy King. Each has impressed upon us the need for real relationship building and integrity.

Strong and empathetic communication allows us to form shared visions – and those visions build partnerships and teams that have the power to move mountains.

At the end of my first year as a 2019 Westpac Future Leader I have learned to first question how to think about a problem rather than working on the problem itself. I have learned to build trust, to build real and raw relationships by learning what matters most to those around me and communicating effectively.

Any assumptions I had have been questioned and I have learned how to frame challenges and help others build their own positive mindsets.

I’ve been able to get to know myself again and I feel more rejuvenated than ever.

So from the daunting capital it once seemed when I landed for the first time, I now feel comfortable in my new friendly home in Canberra. Ready to set new objectives and create the next chapter – this time with a team learning to empower others and build the same trust around us as we have formed as a group.

From the overwhelmingly uplifting feeling I’ve been left with, I can’t help but feel like the sunlight is no longer struggling to get through the fog, it is glistening on what now lies ahead for us all.

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