THIS leadership chapter usually starts with a participant identifying an issue they are passionate about wanting to improve in the broader community. Sometimes participants are looking to network, others are grappling with how to make a start.
They gather with the common purpose to make a positive difference.
Leadership Ballarat and Western Region executive officer Michelle Whyte said the leaders' forum was about getting out of the bubble or normality and challenging your perspective, maybe making you a little uncomfortable, in a safe space.
The result, Ms Whyte said, was predominantly life-changing. She has felt the impact.
Ms Whyte is a 2015 alumna and now oversees the program as a facilitator. Her LBWR journey started while an executive officer for Ballarat Neighbourhood House with the support of her board, most of whom had also completed the program. The forum offered a spark of what might be possible.
"I was with a small organisation working uphill in some ways to help people. I was unable to attend a program day at Yuille Park Community College, but was still affected by the response of other participants. How could you not know there were people facing such hurdles in our community," Ms Whyte said.
Stories still need to be told, showing people are still worthy. A need to understand other people see things differently and the different stories they may be telling.Michelle Whyte, LBWR executive officer
"Stories still need to be told, not just socioeconomic, showing all people are still worthy. I needed to understand other people see things differently and the different stories they may be telling about you.
"...It's really interesting to watch people go through this process. Everyone moves forward in development as a person, some more than others, but the experiential and personal connections people make within the program make so much impact. People are all there because they want to be better and they want their community to be better. That is the common purpose."
This is primarily what drew Ms Whyte back to LBWR last year as executive officer. A changed outlook had allowed Ms Whyte to thrive and help look more collaboratively at the bigger picture to grow Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre and secure a large contract to help people achieve jobs. LBWR offered a chance for Ms Whyte to take her social justice and leadership passions to the next level.
The leaders forum, supported by Committee for Ballarat and Regional Development Victoria, focuses on leadership as opposed to management - the ways people can make a positive difference in their work, the community, their family and in themselves to spark change.
From its foundations in 2006, LBWR has promoted community action rather than mere social awareness. More than 300 participants have completed the leaders' forum with about 30 members from a broad cross-section of the community enrolled this year.
Ms Whyte draws on world's best practice from the Kansas Leadership Centre and Harvard University's work on wicked problems (those seemingly impossible to solve).
I think we've lost the art of debating and ability how to work with factions, managing others and influencing others. It's how to make other people move.Michelle Whyte, Leadership Ballarat and Western Region executive officer
LBWR's program administrator Mike Hills said too often, people can get caught up in the politics of leadership. Mr Hill is well-versed in working in political communications teams, including time advising state MPs. Politics aside, he felt strong leadership was about the bigger picture, not titles, and those who were brave enough to stick their necks out a little and take a risk.
"The common thread is the idea of getting beyond the individual," Mr Hills said. "There is a lot of 'me, me, me' focus in looking at things, but to make change takes collective action...It's something special to watch people coming together and inspiring each other."
LBWR is working on developing smaller bite-sized leadership programs, including an introductory taste for emerging leaders and another focused on women's leadership.
Click on the photo below to read Rosie Batty's leadership message to Ballarat
Ms Whyte and Mr Hills said they view it their responsibility to diversify their offerings to truly make a purposeful impact in helping skill community leadership. The forum is an intensive year-long program requiring participants to juggle program days with work, including opening and closing retreats and a trip to Canberra. They understand not every organisation or individual could afford the time or financial commitment - but this should not mean people must miss out.
Their aim is to fill community gaps with different ways and different people to stand up.
LBWR, at its core, is about helping people to look structurally at what they feel is a community concern, what they aspire to reach then ways to get there via what they can do.
"This is a long-term investment," Mr Hills said. "Value in the community can be hard to measure but a thought experiment could be imagining what the community might look like without LBWR's impact."
ON PATHWAY TO ACTION CHANGE
BE PRESENT in every experience were the words Lauren Baker read in a letter from a participant who had been through exactly what she was about to begin.
These were the words Ms Baker passed on to the graduating class of Leadership Ballarat and Western Region and to Natalie Heynes who follows in her footsteps with a Leaders in Action scholarship.
These were the words that completely redirected Ms Baker's life.
Ms Baker set out last year running a consultancy in human resources support for small and medium business. LBWR's leaders' forum was a chance for Ms Baker to test she was keeping up with the modern workforce in her return from maternity leave and a chance for professional development while juggling a young family.
By the year's end, Ms Baker was realising her passion in a full-time role as people and culture manager for McCallum disability support services. Her turning point was a visit to Yuille Park Community College, early in the program.
"Hearing from leaders who were so creative in the programs they're putting together while being so true to purpose and passionate," Ms Baker said. "From there, I was exposed to so many different programs around community that it got me thinking, where do I fit in and where is my passion. My strength is in people management. Environments don't have to have resources to do effective and innovative things."
The full scholarship, sponsored by LBWR, allowed Ms Baker to access a chance she felt would otherwise have been unlikely as a sole practitioner. Similarly for Ms Heynes in her work with Victoria Legal Aid.
While the program shook-up Ms Baker's life, it is already proving reaffirming for Ms Heynes.
"It has made me reflect that I am really happy in what I'm doing. I value giving all people the opportunity and access to justice, fairness and open-mindedness," Ms Heynes said. "Each day I wonder who we'll hear from and how my thinking might shift...It adds to my leadership journey and more informed decision-making."
Ms Heynes said the program had helped her break out of the worlds she works and lives in by challenging her with different perspectives. Each participant came from a wide-ranging professions and interests with completely different ways of looking at the broader Ballarat community.
Connecting with others with similar values, wanting to better the region, is what first drew Ms Heynes to the program.
Already, Ms Heynes has found she was learning much from other's participants attitudes and approaches to issues. Sitting in on a City of Ballarat council meeting for the first time allowed Ms Heynes a clearer understanding of community workings and she felt in a better, more informed position to drive change as a community member.
The challenge, like many in her forum, was truly taking the time to be present but doing so, Ms Heynes said was invaluable.
"It's not often you get an opportunity to just switch off and think deeply on issues in the community or speak with people of expertise," Ms Heynes said. "It's energising and sparks something within you."
EDUCATING, INSPIRING, ACTIVATING A REGION
THE mission is to create a ripple effect in developing leadership to help shape the future of the regional community.
Leadership Ballarat and Western Region programs administrator Mike Hills says it is like a positive obligation among more than 300 graduates from the leaders' forum to share their skills in ways that benefit the region and help bring out the best in those around them.
Committee for Ballarat, with community partners, established LBWR in 2005 to create would create sustainable, connected and responsive communities across the City of Ballarat, Pyrenees, Golden Plains, Hepburn and Moorabool shires. Similar experiential leadership programs cover regional Victoria.
LBWR executive officer Michelle Whyte said the program was increasingly important to the region as communities grappled with population growth and change.
The growth Ballarat is undertaking is enormous but there is always the concern how do we keep a sense of community and how do we stay connected.Michelle Whyte, Leadership Ballarat and Western Region executive officer
"Sometimes at the beginning of a program like this, there is an overwhelming sense it can be too hard as you realise the work in community leadership," Ms Whyte said.
"You find there is a way forward and bit-by-bit you do what you can, even in making your work and family life better."
LBWR's leaders forum works with about 30 participants each year but plans are underway to expand into bite-sized programs to help make a difference.
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