Friday, 21 February 2014


I have just spent several days at the LGPro Annual Conference in Melbourne and I was quite surprised. Titled A Place for Everyone, this conference was structured in a bold way that worked amazingly well for public sector managers and it offered plenty that managers in the private sector could learn from...

It invited participants to make the connection between their personal development, leadership within their organisations, and how they personally and collectively can make a difference engaging with their communities.

I think I saw the emerging paradigm of this century being played out, and given the problems young people will have to face on their watch, I could see that top down hierarchical leadership styles have become simply irrelevant.  We have to unlock the creativity in our people, our organisations and our communities to come up with solutions in a complex modern world. The application of this thinking to community engagement in the public sector is obvious, but it was clear, too, that this was equally relevant to the private sector (think social media at the very least, but companies themselves will reflect the shift in the world around them, too). 

A keynote session with a doctor was the first surprise. Dr Craig Hassad detailed the health impacts of stress and distractedness (right down to the premature unravelling of your DNA!) and walked us through a simple Mindfulness exercise that can be done in and out of work hours. The research shows that focus and detachment of mindfulness practice actually increases our ability to empathise with others. He brought home to managers a new way of relating to demanding jobs in a simple, practical way.

Dr Craig Hassed,Senior Lecturer, Department of 
General Practice, Monash University

The next highlight was a session with Allan Priess from McArthurs in which he critiqued modern leadership literature, characterising most as falling into two camps; 'military' style - think Chief Executive Officers and the language of authority - and 'machine' style models - think operations, processes, and (us) the cogs... It's not that we can't and shouldn't have processes, but more that collectively humans are more intelligent when we collaborate than when we hang on the words of one leader. Directives from above are great in a crisis, but for the most part, what we experience now is constant innovation.

Allan Preiss, Senior Consultant,
McArthur Talent Architects

What emerged was a new vision of leadership where anyone in an organisation can have a great idea, and those around them (not just their managers) encourage them to find new solutions. These would be organisations where people are engaged and committed to their work; organisations where people are not afraid to admit that they don't know something and ask for help; organisations that nurture people was individuals, invite their input, and encourage their personal and professional development.

I heard a number of times how design teams had come up with fundamentally better civic designs when they asked communities what they wanted. Which brings me to two of the later sessions worth a mention. I sat in with reps from the Victorian Youth Parliament where we were invited to consider WHY young people seem disengaged from voting and politics. Collectively we found that young people DO care, but for them the focus is issues, it's not party based. The feedback was that young people want empowerment, not just lip-service to their views. As a parent of teenagers I know that long explanations of complex subjects don't work, yet young people will go to enormous efforts to research things that matter to them. We've got to be more honest about sharing power and be more willing to use other communications channels (who cares if it's social media if they get involved!) if we want to engage others - and I don't just mean our youth.

The last session that sticks in my mind was The Ideas Marketplace (pictured below). Sometimes we need to get out of our physical comfort zone for our minds to use new channels. This session had us moving around in the marketplace, CEOs rubbing shoulders with young people with prospects in free-flowing clusters of conversations, interjections and heckling to boot. A physical depiction of the transitions being suggested, if you will. When I cast my mind back to conferences where I've heard Customer Service Managers bemoan that they can't make the shifts they want because of barriers above, I thought this rambling market scene was a healthy change.