by Samantha Sturm, Ronald McDonald House Charities South Australia

In 2020, I was extremely privileged to participate in the Governor’s Leadership Foundation Program (GLF), run by the Leader’s Institute of South Australia. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Community Business Bureau (CBB), I was awarded a half scholarship which, together with a contribution from my employer (Ronald McDonald Charities South Australia), enabled my participation in the program.

2020 was very challenging for everyone, as we all dealt with the impacts of COVID-19 personally and professionally. Participating in a 10-month intensive leadership program such as the GLF during a pandemic was hard, but it gave the participants strong focus as we all held each other “tightly and lightly”. We supported each other through the incredible journey of GLF whilst also navigating the impacts of COVID-19 outside of the program.

The GLF exposed us to many different perspectives and opened our eyes to important societal issues, and the systemic way in which these can occur. These learnings have translated to my professional and personal life where I’m much more conscious of observing the way systems operate, and how I can influence them to drive positive change.

The program challenged the mechanistic way we can often look at problems. Instead, we were encouraged to look at these issues through a living system lens with many moving parts, and we were shown the value of diversity when looking at complex, adaptive issues. By engaging our hearts and minds through the power of storytelling and lived experience, we opened our eyes to the many polarities we face as leaders.

Mickey O’Brien and his cultural awareness session was a stand-out for me; he used stories to educate and influence a shift in our own perspectives on Australia’s history. We were lucky enough to have some wonderful Aboriginal women in our group who shared their lived experience and provided powerful insights as to what their culture means to them. I genuinely hope I can continue to play a role within my own sphere of influence to progress reconciliation.

Some of the pivotal moments during the GLF included hearing the Harvard Case Studies, which demonstrated the systemic way in which issues can occur. It was also powerful to reflect upon the ‘humanness’ of us as leaders and hear the different perspectives on the group’s ‘leadership fails’ in a non-judgmental and impartial way.

A huge take-away from this year for me has been the importance and value of community. There was a common thread throughout the GLF sessions in terms of what can happen when there is no sense of community – including impacts such as homelessness, crime, loneliness in ageing, isolation for migrants, and more. It was extremely evident that we all need to feel a sense of belonging, have purpose in our lives, and ‘be missed’ by someone.

The GLF made me feel proud to be a born and bred South Australian. We were exposed to some incredible industries and technology in SA (with their equally impressive leaders).  Broadening our understanding of key industries in the state was a big learning.

But I also feel worried. Worried that, though some of society’s biggest issues could be fixed with enough individual, collective and political will, nearly all these issues relate to money. The problem is, our society places huge importance on growth and consumerism, and we’re paying the price for this through climate change, homelessness, and many other big issues.

The GLF is also a powerful connector of people. Together, our cohort experienced many highs, with some lows, in what is probably one of the most unique years the program has run. The shared bond amongst the cohort is incredibly strong, with lifelong friends and professional networks made. We enjoy an ongoing connection well beyond the program completion.

I walk away from the GLF different in some parts and the same in others; the program held a mirror up that exposed the big picture issues affecting society whilst also increasing our self-awareness. This self-awareness, in combination with the program’s key themes of vulnerability and authenticity, helped me grow into a more holistic leader. It has also positively impacted my personal and professional relationships, enriching them even further.

I’m extremely grateful for the life-changing experience of GLF and the amazing vertical development this course has provided for me.

I would again like to thank CBB for enabling my personal and professional development through the half scholarship awarded to me. I hope to continue to make a positive social impact through my learnings.