Iron Sharpens Iron

Brianna Kerr, Westpac Scholar, 2020 Future Leader

Written by Brianna Kerr, Westpac Scholar, 2020 Future Leader


Meeting the fourteen other scholars at the beginning of the Leadership Development Program was like walking into a first date. I was nervous, excited, wary and a bit giddy. I had read all of their profiles twice, awed over their experiences and spent a considerable amount of time Googling ‘What exactly is a PHD?’. I was intimidated, impressed and inspired all at the same time. I was also a little sceptical. How much could we really develop in one week?  


One of the first activities we were asked to do, was to express our leadership style on a blank piece of A4 paper. I scrambled for the coloured textas from the centre of the circle and started to sketch a human body, thinking about how different parts of our anatomy are powerful metaphors for great leadership. The heart for empathy, kindness, compassion. The mind for rationality, curiosity and learning. The hands for connection, advocacy and guidance. I believe that when these different pieces of the “leadership anatomy” are working in synergy, we see the most comprehensive and all-encompassing forms of leadership. I called it ‘The Body Model’. 


At the end of the activity, one of the other scholars and I sat under the gums on the verandah and talked about our models. He had crafted a complicated diagram that illustrated the interactions between facilitation and empowerment, leadership and direction. He called it ‘The Facilitation Model’ and it looked brilliant. Damn, I thought, I just drew a rainbow person wearing a dress like a bloody kindergartener. Did I just miss the entire point? 


As we broke up for lunch, I started talking to the others about their depictions of leadership. One scholar had drawn clusters of molecules to show connectedness and teamwork and another had simply called hers ‘Unapologetically, on my own terms’.  I was inspired by how diverse everyone’s interpretations were and began to see the value in my own expression of leadership. It was authentically me. We were a group of individuals with very different ideas about leadership and at the outset, I thought that multiplicity was great. The real magic though, happened one week later when we redid the activity.  


Everyone had time to redraw their styles of leadership and at the end, we shared the changes amongst the group. The outcome surprised me. People had retained their individuality but had also adopted elements of other people’s styles. We had intently listened, confronted our biases, worked on fears and challenged ourselves (and each other) to be better. After just five days together, we were no longer speaking in languages that made most sense to us as individuals, but were trying to create a shared language of leadership that was accessible to everyone.  


A great leader from an old workplace commented on one of my posts the other day and said ‘Iron sharpens iron, you must learn from each other’. I couldn’t agree with him more.  


Thank you to the Westpac Scholars Trust for a truly transformative week, you really are changing the face of leadership in Australia.  


Published 31 March 2020

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