David Stewart shares his leadership lessons and wisdom through a series of articles that give you first hand tips to become the leader you wish you had. 

Whether you are a coach of a junior sports team, president of a volunteer organisation, manager of a workplace, teacher or parent, an ability to coach and influence others is a life skill. Regional Australia has a long and proud history of coaching and influencing each other. It is how we get through difficult times together.

Regional townships have a huge advantage over big cities in an ability to authentically inject a sense of connection and inclusion into the community … when people know their family history, you will hear stories of enterprise, resilience, perseverance and bravery, which help fuel a sense of pride and family identity … the research is quite clear. Children who know their family history have a sense of belonging, and in turn are more resilient.

The Victorian Government’s recent decision to cancel the Commonwealth Games in regional Victoria once again demonstrates two things. Firstly, for a leader to be trusted, any up front promises and subsequent actions and lived experiences must align. Secondly, regional Australians must be able to adapt quickly to the incompetent decisions governments make. This is often and many.

A leader has a responsibility to role model a resilient mindset to overcome difficult times. Nothing goes to plan. Especially living in regional Australia there are always challenges … Optimistic people are more resilient than pessimistic people. As Henry Ford famously quoted: “If you think you can – you are absolutely right! …. If you think you cannot – you are absolutely right!”

Have you ever noticed it is always the same people who volunteer and involve themselves in all aspects of the community? Regional and rural Australia would not be the same without our army of volunteers, community leaders, and people who put their hands up to lend a hand for the betterment of the community.

Reaching Your Pinnacle – a mindset, not a destination. Leadership is not easy. It requires time, persistence, patience, and above all energy. This is especially true in regional and rural Australia, where the need for leadership can suddenly become foisted onto a person at any moment. The first test of leadership is your ability to lead yourself. If a leader is OK and in a good place, then they have an ability to help others.

A quick lesson anyone learns when travelling regional and rural Australia is how quickly you must adapt to the unpredictable and ever-changing circumstances regional communities find themselves in. If you cannot adapt – you cannot survive! This requires a special mindset … “The important thing is to never stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”: Albert Einstein.

In recent times I have been saddened to see reports that many local community groups and charities are struggling or being forced to close due to a lack of volunteers. Volunteering may be the best leadership and team development program anyone ever undertakes. Don’t think of volunteering as a cost of time – but rather an investment in personal development.

Recently I have been hosting a series of Business Leaders Round Tables throughout regional Victoria and Queensland. In several of the sessions, I was quite taken aback by the language used to describe our next generation by some of the leaders present. History shows that every generation has its own set of unique qualities, values, and idiosyncrasies. But describing or labelling an entire generation with broad sweeping negative generalisations is unhelpful and is a sure way to get any potential staff or volunteers offside.

Over the past six months I have travelled to every State and Territory conducting a series of Business and Community Leader Consultations. Whilst every region has their own unique issues and challenges to address, what impressed me most was the passion and commitment leaders had for their community, and in particular the next generation coming through. A key recurring message was the importance of being able to lead oneself! … Having a personal leadership charter is important.

Of all the things that I get asked the most when mentoring a leader – is to help them when they are feeling vulnerable. The chances are we will all feel daunted or overwhelmed at some stage in our lives. Challenging times will always impact our confidence. Life is uncertain. At some point, we will feel vulnerable, uncomfortable, and unsure of ourselves. This is a normal phenomenon.

Complex social issues can only ever be resolved by communities working together to address and solve them. Governments cannot solve problems, they can only resource solutions through funding and policy commitments. This requires community leaders to park their egos and focus on what is in the best interests of the community and adopt a collective growth mindset.

I often get asked by leaders how to have a difficult conversation. My answer is always the same. Don’t have one! Have a normal conversation. A difficult conversation should be treated as a normal conversation. That is, they are conducted respectfully, empathetically, with good intent, and safely … Key is not to have a difficult conversation when either party is angry. No one can listen when they are angry.

It’s not every day you have the opportunity of trekking up Africa’s highest peak with your daughter … The six lessons I learnt climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (whilst obvious in the cool light of day) were acquired and reinforced through experience. Learning by doing is the most effective and powerful teacher of life’s lessons. These lessons have application in everyday team scenarios.