Summit shows leadership paths

Summit shows leadership paths

Discussing their path to leadership were farmer and Shire of Moora president Tracy Lefroy (left), Kalannie farmer Bob Nixon, Condingup farmer Marie Fowler and Grain Grower Alliance chief executive officer Niki Curtis.

Discussing their path to leadership were farmer and Shire of Moora president Tracy Lefroy (left), Kalannie farmer Bob Nixon, Condingup farmer Marie Fowler and Grain Grower Alliance chief executive officer Niki Curtis.


Leadership programs involves more learning about yourself than actually acquiring new skills.


UNDERTAKING a leadership program involves more learning about yourself than actually acquiring new skills.

In delving inwards, you can know what your strengths and weaknesses are, what personality traits make you a good leader and what are the areas you need to work on, which is commonly around confidence.

Held last week at Crown Towers, Burswood, the Rural Edge Inspire Summit featured a panel of prominent people in WA agriculture who went through varying leadership programs.

More than 230 attendees, mainly women, heard from Moora farmer and Shire president Tracy Lefroy, Kalannie farmer Bob Nixon, Condingup farmer Marie Fowler and Grain Growers Alliance (GGA) chief executive officer Niki Curtis, who each shared their experiences of going through leadership programs and how it benefited their respective businesses, organisations and communities.

"I don't think learning is something that has a beginning, middle and end," said Ms Lefroy, a 2006 Nuffield scholar and valedictorian of the 2019 Signature Leadership Program with Leadership WA.

"For me learning is a decision to approach life in a certain way - it's a willingness to approach life and be nimble, be willing to change and actively seek information on a daily basis."

Ms Lefroy said it was not necessarily the course material that mattered, but learning how to learn, how to access networks, how to talk to people, how to ask questions and how to share your knowledge to help them be better informed.

Describing herself as a "bull at a gate" and "I'm not great at slowing down", through these programs Ms Lefroy learnt the power of slowing down and taking the time to hear and understand people's stories.

"Storytelling has a strength no matter who we are and I find that if I can tell a story about who I am - my leadership within the community or within farming, I find that I build trust with people," Ms Lefroy said.

"If people have trust in your story and authenticity, that leads to them having trust in your product or leadership."

In trying to build trust by storytelling, she said it was crucial that your actions match your story in order to avoid distrust in what you're trying to do.

For Ms Lefroy, the basis of her leadership is from being a regional WA community member, which underpins her roles as a farmer, wife, mother, business owner, community member and volunteer.

Given she is a shire president, it's no surprise Ms Lefroy is passionate about building her community of Moora.

Some regional citizens are concerned when big business comes into their community.

Ms Lefroy spoke of Andrew and Nicola Forrest's major Koojan beef facility under construction and how the Moora community has welcomed the company, but on their terms.

"In welcoming this enterprise we are fighting hard for families employed by Koojan Beef to live, work and play and educate their children in our region," she said.

"We have put that into our planning with them, for example we have a new school bus in town to cater to the families, we've got farmers leasing out what were empty houses, local earth moving businesses doing the civil works and an increase in our school numbers - our Central Midlands high school now has the highest enrolments that it has had in over a decade.

"So we are bucking the trend by welcoming business, but welcoming it on our terms.

"We want big business to embrace us, but we also are willing to embrace that business right back.

"We want big business to give back to our community and we will give to them, we see them working with our regional community, not just in our regional community."

Gaining confidence was the biggest takeaway that Mr Nixon gained from being a 2014 Nuffield scholar.

Despite no intention to advance his leadership skills, he was motivated by his love for farming, particularly agronomy, to take part.

"Choose a topic that you're passionate about - one that you want to talk about and embrace," Mr Nixon said.

For him it was looking into mitigating risk in a dry and variable climate.

"I learnt that good business is good business.

"Get out of your comfort zone and you'll often learn more about other sectors and putting yourself out there than you do from your own sector - there's real value in that."

Similar to Ms Lefroy, Mr Nixon learnt the value of slowing down, saying no when needed and enjoying the process.

"On return from my Nuffield trip, the biggest impact has not been directly on our farming business, it has been in industry engagement - I have met a lot of great people and in meeting more people, you learn a lot more for you to take back to your business.

"This is the most exciting time in agriculture since I have been home.

"There's always going to be challenges and we all have a big role to play going forward.

"We do need diversity in leadership."

For a decade Ms Fowler's life had revolved around being a mother and "stuck in the office" after leaving a career in ag-politics and agriculture in Europe.

Through the Rabobank Executive Development Program, which is very business focussed, Ms Fowler learnt the value in stepping out of her comfort zone.

After the program she actively became more involved in her community in joining the board of the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association and president of the Condingup District Rec Association among others.

"I have also been more involved in our farming business - drilling down into the nuts and bolts - what are we doing, why we're doing it, going back to the budget, how can we do things better, what changes can we make throughout the year to make our business more successful," Ms Fowler said.

"We have also gone through a succession in the last year so the skills I learnt from the program also helped me work through that.

"It's always refreshing to go away and come back to your business with fresh eyes."

Struggling with a lack of confidence and self-doubt has been ongoing for Ms Curtis.

Now the chief executive officer of GGA, she graduated from the Australian Institute of Company Directors program in 2019 and the Leadership WA Signature Program in 2018.

"I still struggle with the term 'leader'," Ms Curtis said.

"There's still a little voice in my head that says I'm not good enough."

In times of trauma, people will often find themselves going one of three ways -fight, fly or freeze.

The Esperance fires of 2015 will always be etched in the community's minds and it was during that traumatic event that Ms Curtis found herself 'fighting', or stepping up as a leader.

"(Our community) struggled to come to terms with the impact of the fires," Ms Curtis said.

"That was the start of me feeling like I wanted to do more in my community."

Through these programs Ms Curtis gained insight into other industries and how they relate to agriculture.

She realised that words that reflected a 'traditional' leadership style didn't resonate with her and didn't describe the type of leader she wanted to be - words like dominant, powerful, control.

"Leadership can come in any form and I like to support others," Ms Curtis said.

"My style involves being inspiring, encouraging, supportive, motivating etc."

Rather than sitting on the sidelines and being unsatisfied with the way things are done, attendees left feeling inspired to become changemakers in their business, community and industry in stepping out of their comfort zone and sharing their ideas.


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