Leadership lessons

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Imagine that you are tired and hungry. You’ve been pushed physically and mentally for days. You’re in the middle of the Kimberly with a group of people who you’ve only just met.  You think you have limited resources and have just been given another challenge that if it goes pear-shaped…

Scenario two. You’re at the end of multiple days of professional development training (similar to the end of a GrazingforProfit™ school).  Again you’re tired both physically and mentally. As you relax, you’re handed a challenge with limited resources. Your group of 35 must write and perform a play. You have a venue; however, you must find an audience and the play must engage and move them from laughter to tears. THEN you need to cater the after-party for the cast and audience. You have less than 24 hours. Go!

Welcome to the Australian Rural Leadership Program, Course 26 (ARLP C26), a 50-day, five-session immersive and experiential leadership program spread over a 15-month period that I’ve been participating in since July 2019. While I can’t give details of the course, I can share some of my key learnings.

1. Be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

For a muscle to grow, it must be stressed and then rested. For grass to grow, it needs to be grazed and then receive the appropriate amount of rest. (This sounds like the second grazing principle!). For us as individuals to grow, we need to be challenged from time to time. This is where this concept of being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable comes in. To grow, we need to accept challenges. Since being challenged usually causes discomfort, this means we need to choose to be happy, or comfortable putting our hand up for challenges. In grass growth, we need to find the balance between graze and rest. For ourselves, we need to find the balance between challenge and business as usual. The Pareto Principle can work here. I.e. Find something that will challenge you for 20% of your time. Recently my 20% has been putting my hand up to teach RCS’s short courses, the Grazing Clinic, Business Fundamentals and Soil Solutions Workshops. I’m acutely aware that I am growing and, in the process, I’m becoming comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

2. The leadership dance

Recently I’ve come across the metaphor of leadership being a dance. The dance of positional leadership roles. The dance of titles. The dance of responsibilities. However, this dance is more freestyle than waltz. Chaos is real and requires creative thinking to bring about positive change. Therefore, leaders need to dance between structured business as usual and chaos. To lead successfully, they need to flow between the two, back and forth, back and forth.

I’m dancing my way into leadership. The ARLP has given me the confidence to be creative, sometimes in chaos, drawing in others who may not necessarily be in leadership roles to help create the desired outcomes.  We are all leaders when we dance into this space, creating order and positive change.

3. You have everything you need

Back to the first two challenges, (the Kimberley and the Play) where I assumed we had limited resources. The facilitators of the course reminded us that we have everything we need.

We all face issues and challenges that at times seem insurmountable, and we tend to think that we have limited resources, (time, money, etc.). Instead of focussing on what we don’t have, take a step back and have a good look at what we do have. What skills, knowledge and experience have we accumulated over the years, not just ourselves, but collectively with everyone in our team? Can we look at our challenge from a different angle? Ask our kids or parents; what do they see? How would they approach the challenge? My father passed away several years ago, so while he is not as talkative as he used to be, at times, I’ll try and look at an issue through his eyes. What would Dad do if he was here? What advice would he give? How would someone you really respect, manage the situation?

While I know that we can dig deep and have vast amounts of inner strength, the message here is to step back and look at it through different eyes.

Practice growing. Be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Be creative and dance in the chaos. You possibly already have everything you need.

I want to thank Marg Bridgeford and Nic Kentish, both Alumni of the ARLP, for their help and mentorship in my ARLP journey. I want to thank RCS for giving me the freedom to do the leadership dance. I want to thank Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) for their generous sponsorship during the ARLP C26. And, as always, I thank my family for their encouragement as I get into my dance and become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.


Andrew Zerner
RCS Teacher, Coach and Advisor

Andrew Zerner, Australian Rural Leadership Program participant