Australia is living through its own 'Annus Horribilus'. For so many, the extreme weather events that kick off in the winter of 2019, have left a trail of destruction for individuals, families, businesses, communities, our ecology, the landscape and indeed our whole country. The impacts are significant and will continue to be so for months and years to come.
In recovery, there is much talk of a resilient community. The Australian character, apparently, has been born of triumph over adversity; battling against all odds; a land ... of droughts and flooding rains; the spirit of the Anzac; Australia II beating the Yanks at their own game and winning the Americas Cup. We are a nation of underdogs "punching well above our weight". Or are we?
The summer has tested us and will continue to do so. The concern is we default to "let's roll up our sleeves and get on with it", as that's what a resilient country does? This default position risks us missing the absolutely fundamental issue that must be addressed first in our communities, care.
Before we move into task mode, let's take the time to stop and listen to the people who are living with so much emotion. Bega NSW MP Andrew Constance recently put it on Q&A: "Recovery is not just about putting buildings back. It's more important than that. It's about humanity."
In understanding what "about humanity" really means in relation to leadership is to understand that leadership is about enabling a whole range of constructive behaviours, it is not about a position of authority. One of those behaviours we enable is listening. Listening to understand, rather than listening to respond, because any response must be pre-empted by understanding and the starting point for understanding is care.
This type of leadership is learned. It can't be left to chance and rarely is it intuitive gained. It's leadership that is "owned" by us all and is not the responsibility of a few with a title. This type of leadership seeks to gain insight before diagnosing a problem. It's leadership that generates unique solutions, placed based and specific to unique needs. It's leadership that is sensitive to the needs of others before self, it encourages others to express their emotions and their ideas. It's leadership that collaborates, motivates intrinsically by giving autonomy; it's leadership that fosters the sharing.
Community leadership is about building a movement.
These are the skills that can be learnt and to reach maximum impact, we need to scale it widely. Now is the time to invest in that "leadership learning" for communities, to equipped them with the skills of recovery and ultimately build resilience.
Should we just accept that resilience is born of our cultural construct based on our heritage, our poetry, or our characters, then we will fail to understand the impact hardship has on our people. Should we just wait for our "leaders" with title to say "let's just get on with the job and this is what we are going to do for you", then we will fail to address the uniqueness of our circumstances. We will fail our communities and miss the opportunity to model what is truly effective leadership. Community leadership, embraced by many with or without title, is the type of capacity building we need to ensure care and resilience that lies at the heart of humanity.
Community leadership is about building people and enabling them to be the best version of themselves. It is about empowering others, especially at times when hardship, devastation and possible hopelessness is so widespread. We must prioritise people and relationships before tasks and in doing so, we will be better placed to build communities capable of re-forming and re-shaping themselves.
Community leadership is about building a movement. A movement that is firmly based in understanding self, understanding others and then building capacity.
In 2020, Leadership Ballarat and Western Region will mark its 15th year building capacity in our community. Its mission is to invest in the social, economic and environment future of the region by providing unique leadership development opportunities that inspire and mobilise emerging leaders. A recent study concluded that from the approximately 400 alumni of the LBWR program, the economic value of their volunteer community work, exceeded $9 million. LBWR and the other nine regional leadership programs around Victoria face the threat of significant budget cuts in 2020-21 that will likely render many unviable. Government invests billions every year in programs and services and it is right that they review these investments to ensure appropriate value for public money.
Community leadership is at the heart of community resilience. Leadership is learned, it is not innate or a product of our genes. Now more than ever, with our communities facing long-term recovery from trauma, loss and devastation, is the time to invest in the development of our leaders.
Michael Poulton is chief executive of Committee for Ballarat