This week, young men and women from SLS clubs across Australia are participating in the National Leadership College in Sydney. Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter CEO for Sydney and southern NSW Stephen Leahy is among the keynote speakers. He was a graduate of the program in 1990. Here are some of his thoughts on leadership.
To begin, let’s be clear. The photo attached to this article is not an exercise in self-indulgence. It is there for a purpose, to help tell a story of the journey I have been on.
The four blokes in the picture? That’s me and three of my mates. Mates I made a long time ago. Where? Well that’s the story in itself.
It was taken at The Aussies on the Gold Coast last year. A Leadership Alumni gathering of past attendees of this great initiative and opportunity Surf Life Saving provides to outstanding young men and women around the country.
On the left. That’s Shane Daw. He has just been appointed the Coastal Safety and Risk Manager for SLSA. Next to him, Peter McMahon. He was the national director of lifesaving. Then there’s Buhky. Andrew Buhk according to the electoral roll. If you’ve spent time at The Aussies over the years, you’ll know him. He’s the Australian Championships referee. And then there’s me. These days, I’m the CEO at the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service in Sydney and southern NSW.
Point is, we’re all graduates of the SLSA National Leadership College. It was called something different back then but the intent remains the same. To nurture, develop and guide the future leaders of Surf Life Saving.
I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate all those years ago. I know I am a better leader as a result of it.
I find it relatively easy to write and to speak about leadership but any leader will tell you that it is always harder in practice.
There are different styles of leadership but there is no magic bullet as to the best style of leadership. We all get to practice leadership in our daily lives, whether it is in the workplace, at our surf club, with our mates or at home.
Your brand of leadership is melded though your own personal experiences and of those we meet and deal with. It is influenced by behaviours, whether it be our bosses at work, the senior members of our surf club, our sporting heroes or our world leaders! Personally, I learn as much from watching the poor, the intimidating, the bullying and spineless behaviours of some people compared to those I admire.
We all develop personal behaviours or values as our leadership style matures. These are usually fairly dynamic and adapt over time. At the moment, mine are:
- Have confidence in yourself and your team
- Acknowledge your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities – work on strengthening them
- Be innovative and promote change
- Be true to your own values
- Don’t be afraid to fail
I’m not inclined to say “follow me” as a leader. It’s more likely to be “walk with me”. I don’t want you walking in my shadow, I’d much prefer that we do this together. Nevertheless, as a leader, you will need to challenge the norm and coax the trepid.
My personal mantra is “every contact leaves its trace.” It’s an old saying I learnt when I was studying to be a detective in the Victoria Police. My take on this adage has nothing to do with forensic science … but that is a lesson for another day, folks.