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Graham Loves a Good Analogy

13 July 2021

Why would a former ARLP leadership program facilitator choose Against the Wind as a theme for a self-supported, fundraising bicycle tour of over 3,800 km from Canberra to Perth?

For Graham those three words, (they are also the hit song title from 1980, the year Graham began his 40+ career as an educator) resonated strongly with many personal life and career reflections. They also neatly captured many memorable facets of his recent seven years of experiences managing leadership development programs for the ARLF.


Why Against the Wind? by Graham Smith

Pushing for weeks against the wind isn’t easy however it develops, trains, exercises and hones capabilities which would otherwise go untested. My observation is this is very similar to many processes of leadership development. Leadership development is rarely simple, comfortable or easy. Indeed the many processes and experiences of leadership development are usually complex, uncomfortable and difficult. And they usually take a long time. Leadership development doesn’t often happen in expresso times. It is much more like a marathon than a sprint.

The long distance cycle touring ride I recently completed with a couple of friends wasn’t simple, easy or comfortable. Nor was it fast. The Against the Wind ride from Canberra to Perth took 42 days including only three rest days. Average distance covered on ride days was a smidge less than 100km. On 19 of the 42 days days we cycled well over 100km including one day of 147km. The ride also had a total of 8600 metres of riding uphill. It was difficult managing scarce water supplies, being safe sharing the open road with massive road trains and avoiding all manner of other types of hazards. 

Not only were there external challenges. There were internal questions of confidence, fears, doubts and uncertainties not only to manage, but to convert to learning experiences. 

Similarly, developing leadership is often very challenging due to external and internal pressures. Deliberately seeking ‘out of comfort zone’ experiences, be they in social, emotional, physical or cognitive contexts, can be some of the most powerful leadership processes provided they occur with collegiate support and with the guidance of reflective learning practices.

Like long distance cycle touring, leadership development relies on a body of theory, practice, models and processes. For example communication, networking, decision making, mentoring, planning and many other processes and behaviours are essential to both leadership development and to endurance cycle touring.

For example, one of my favourite decision making aids or models is the three Ps: People, Process and Product (Outcomes).  In many decisions, I ask myself which of these three Ps am I favouring most, and is my emphasis most appropriate for the situation? All three Ps are essential, but what is the best balance. 

Against the Wind provided numerous opportunities to apply the theory of the Three Ps. For example, meeting ARLF alumni en-route in their own communities and contexts during the ride was the highlight of the journey. So was doing about ten media interviews with rural radio and newspapers. Riding with colleagues was far better than riding solo. Interacting with people made the ride worthwhile. 

Of course, reach the goal (Perth) and achieving the outcomes in a reasonable time was important, but not as important as the human interactions during the journey. And of course the other P, (the process) was also important, especially cycling safely and in a way others could engage with the “Against the Wind” concept and become more aware of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation. Riding faster and further every day would not have been compatible with the most important P, (people) even though it would have been compatible with the goal (Product).

Putting theory into practice is the most important step in leadership development. Taking effective action, experimenting, trying new methods and directions to bring others along toward a vision are essential. Like in cycle touring, moving forward in leadership development is indispensable. With that in mind, I ask you to take action and help me to help the ARLF raise a scholarship. 

To make a donation click here.

Many thanks to the people who have already donated. Your generosity will help fund a scholarship to a person from within one of the regions we cycled through on the Against the Wind ride. These included The Riverina, The Murraylands, The Eyre Peninsula, The Nullarbor, The Goldfields and The WA Wheatbelt.