23/06/2016 - 06:27

10 minutes on leadership with … Colleen Hayward

23/06/2016 - 06:27

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Leadership WA chief executive officer Robin McClellan spent 10 minutes discussing leadership with Edith Cowan University pro vice-chancellor, equity and indigenous, Colleen Hayward, who said the ability to listen was an important tool in developing good leaders. 

10 minutes on leadership with … Colleen Hayward
Robin McClellan (right) with Colleen Hayward, who says leadership must be developed, not left to chance.

Leadership WA chief executive officer Robin McClellan spent 10 minutes discussing leadership with Edith Cowan University pro vice-chancellor, equity and indigenous, Colleen Hayward, who said the ability to listen was an important tool in developing good leaders. 

RM: Your own leadership journey started as a teacher. Could you tell us a little about that?

CH: I know that in leadership, we’re supposed to plan, to have a map about the journey we want to take; however mostly, my life has not been like that, for a couple of reasons. I’m a great believer in, not putting yourself too much at risk, but in taking chances. If I had had a firm plan, it would have limited me to the things I felt confident about and possibly comfortable with, rather than taking chances. I like when someone asks me questions like ‘have you thought of this?’ or ‘would you become involved in that?’

I want to be able to consider those questions openly with the potential of saying ‘yes’. Often those are the things that take you to places that you wouldn’t have anticipated, definitely wouldn’t have planned, and then would’ve missed out on dearly because each one of those things has brought, not only fantastic networks, but a great opportunity to learn in a new area. I think all of that adds up to a much more interesting life.

RM: You’ve certainly had an interesting life. Could you tell us a little bit about your childhood, which I believe provides great insight into modern Australia?

CH: I had a very privileged childhood. I would love for everyone to feel like that about their childhood, but I know they don’t. I grew up at a time when nobody had much, they didn’t lock their front doors, and most families didn't have a car. If there was a car, it was only the man of the household who knew how to drive. So they were very different times. I didn’t ever realise this, as a child, just how close to the wind we were sailing financially because mum and dad were of the view that it was adult business and they didn’t discuss that with us kids. Mum and dad were both teachers. So when we were growing up, getting up and going to school every day was what everyone in the household did.

It’s a very different situation to most families but – when I think about how foundational education is generally and how important it is in the Aboriginal community – I recognise that our hardest challenge is actually getting Aboriginal kids to school. I didn’t ever face that challenge. We loved it; it was what everyone did. In primary school we went to the school where dad was a teacher. He was a fantastic teacher and super popular so, as a consequence, we were too. So not going to school, not only wasn’t an option, but you didn’t consider it. Mum and dad didn’t let us leave school until we had some sort of formal qualification (those were the days when you did what your parents told you). Once again, I know that’s a bit different today. But I’m so glad that was the case because I might have left after year 10 and done something that could have been useful, but may not have made a difference in people’s lives. The journey that I’ve been on has been underpinned and facilitated by my educational experiences and other learnings.

RM: Did you face extra challenges in 1960s Australia, with an Aboriginal father and a white mother?

CH: Yes. Though to be honest, I don’t know I recognised them in the time and context that it was. As a child, one tends to accept just whatever it is as, ‘this is it.’ Each month, people from the government and Department of Welfare would interview us. It’s only as an adult looking back, that I know the interviews could have resulted in us potentially being taken into care. That went on every month, right through our childhood and adolescence. At the time, you just think ‘Who are these strange people asking these odd questions?’ and ‘Didn’t I already answer that last month and the month before?’

You don’t actually know, until you look back, that had I given the wrong answer, it could have been our undoing as a family. I know as well that mum and dad expected us to face racism, just as they each had in their mixed-culture marriage. I also know that we weren’t allowed to catch public transport. If we wanted to go somewhere, dad took us and picked us up. That was about our safety, so that we were not exposed to the risk that it could have been.

There are lots of those things, which I know were formative even though the significance of them wasn’t understood at the time. I wish I had been more self-aware, in terms of being able to ask mum and dad those hard questions. I don’t know what it was that drove dad to finish school at a time when most Aboriginal kids didn’t go to school. I don’t know what it was that lead mum as a girl, to finish high school at a time where most people, regardless of their gender, could leave school when they were 13 or 14, provided they had a job. So they were each exceptional in their own right and, together, formidable.

RM: At what point did you realise that Colleen Hayward had a role to play beyond your own family or the school you were working in? At what point did you start to say ‘I can help with what Australia is facing?’

CH: I think every teacher does that with the children they teach. There’s always a bit of competition between primary and secondary teachers but, the nice thing about being a primary teacher, was that you had a class of students you saw through for a whole year of their development – watching that and supporting them on their own journey was a fantastic opportunity and a privilege. But, after I had been teaching for about 11 years, I had a big health fright with cancer. It was quite progressed by the time it was diagnosed and there were a couple of weeks where they weren’t sure, and nor was I, if I would come out of that. It was a defining moment in my life because now I view life each day as a bonus. So if you’re going to do something, best to get on with it. I live by a mantra of doing what you love, and loving what you do and assessing when it’s time to do the next thing, based on the sphere of influence that you can have in making a difference. I don’t want to waste a day. Every day is a bonus.

RM: Given that you had that moment in which you had to think of your own health, what do you do now? You take care of all of us in so many ways, but who takes care of Colleen Hayward?

CH: I am privileged in terms of support of family, colleagues and friends. It’s amazing how forgiving people can be when you always withdraw at the last minute, but you remain on the invitation list because they understand that sometimes the things that call you away really are urgent and need to be done then.

I love the fact that I have friends who will ring me when I’ve got a late night in the office and say ‘We know you can’t stop but we’ve made you dinner. Just come and knock on the door and we’ll hand you the plate and you can keep going’. People are amazing in terms of the support that they can give when you let them.

RM: What do you do for yourself?

CH: I like a whole range of things. Gardening, although I don’t have enough time, but I’m doing that more nowadays. I love early morning walks around the lake at Hyde Park and, in summer, I almost take up residence in my backyard spa. I regularly catch up with friends and family and make sure I do that almost religiously. With the passing of time you can all of a sudden, be caught where months have gone by. I like home renovations. So over the next little while – as I head towards retirement from a regular position (but not retirement from my life) – I will repaint and decorate my house.

RM: As you move through your various roles and into different positions in the community, including boards, were there people who inspired you or did you say to yourself ‘I want to take a little bit of that person and put those characteristics into who I am?’ Can you point to anyone who made a difference in that way?

CH: Other than each of my parents, I don’t think there’s a single person; I think there are definitely individuals in our lives who make an impact. That’s the nice thing about teaching because I’ve never met a person who can’t tell me the name of a teacher who made a difference in their lives. But there are so many good people where you look and you see the way they behave and the way they think or the difference they made is remarkable in some way, so I pick the eyes in things. So many good people, with so many good qualities, you don’t want to limit yourself to just one.

I also think that at the heart of it, every person will have a quality that is worth exploring. It’s a challenge for us to be able to get to know the people in our lives well enough, to really dwell in those areas they’ve been in.

I must say, because I’m often asked about people who work in Aboriginal communities, one of the lessons I always recommend is that people take silence as part of the conversation and not rush to fill it, simply because that’s what we do in our busy lives. Listening is important.

RM: You mentioned that, down the track, you’ll still be engaged and still looking as to what we as a society, as a community need to focus on and work on. If you could steer us at Leadership WA in a direction, what are the key things for Western Australia to work on for the next few years in the leadership and social impact context?

CH: I think we all have to be mindful that everything we do impacts on someone else, sometimes on lots of people. You can’t always change what you do to take into account all of that impact or all the people who will feel the impact. But I think we have to be mindful that there is an impact.

Increasingly I talk to people that about ensuring that there is more humanity in what they do. It’s easy for us to be so consumed with whatever is taking our time in that moment that we forget about … the impact on people and their needs. Sometimes we forget that each person is another person. I want that human element more and more in everything that we do. I will work with anyone who wants to work in that space.

RM: If you look back at your own life, and the people you worked with, and say ‘Gee I wish I had known this 20 years ago’, does anything come to mind?

CH: Anything and everything really. I don’t know in a real self-reflective way that I could look back and say ‘Whatever I did then, was the best I could do now’. I think we learn along the way. We can’t get hung up on that because it was the best I could do then. But now I would know more and do better.

RM: Any last thoughts? What should Leadership WA think about and incorporate, with regards to your experience of our organisation, and how in your role as a board member (you’ve been so instrumental in our programs) – has that shaped you and then help shape us? What areas should we be focusing on?

CH: One of the things that Leadership WA does really well, regardless of the particular program, is it forces people to reflect. Reflection is something none of us takes enough time to do in our busy lives. We just get on with whatever’s the next task, rather than really thinking about what we’ve just done, sometimes without even having the time to really plan strategically for the next part. So self-reflection is a hard thing because you get to look in the mirror and sometimes you’re pleased with what you see and other times you’re not. That learning for every program participant is so important.

There’s so much more to it but if I had to pick one thing, it would be that because it can apply to every context and every participant in every walk of life. I do know, too, that we can be clichéd about some leaders being born and others who were thrust into leadership – one of the important lessons of leadership is that leadership can’t be left to chance. If we want good leaders in our state, nation and internationally, we have to develop them. For me, Leadership WA does that better than anything else I’ve seen.


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