Alumni stories

It’s all in the book

18 April 2020

Graham Smith | Manager, Programs | ARLF

I’ve had the good fortune of working with the ARLF for the past six years in several roles including Program Director, and as a Manager/Facilitator of five ARLP cohorts and quite a few shorter programs over the years. I’ve worked mostly with ARLP C21-C25. 
“It’s all in the book” and “You have all the resources you need” have been two of my standard facilitator replies to numerous questions from our course participants over the past six years. Loosely translated, these mantra mean “You already have the answer within you, please look a bit deeper” and “Please turn to your colleagues before you ask me for answers.

Reactions from participants to these stock answers vary greatly. Some get annoyed, some crestfallen, some frustrated, however most course participants eventually realise that I’m doing my best to convince them that their own hearts and minds are the best source of guidance when they find themselves in challenging contexts. It’s my way of communicating to participants that I am not an expert in leadership, however they themselves have untapped capacity to drive their own leadership development. This internal self-reliance, combined with the strong bonds they have with their ARLF cohort colleagues, are two of the most enduring leadership developments I’ve seen many of our course participants gain. 

Over the past few weeks, since COVID-19 hit, I’ve found the situation has suddenly switched.  I’ve had to tell myself “It’s all in the book” and “You have all the resources you need”. Like so many other people, I found myself confronted by multiple challenges, with no simple solutions.

A few of the main personal challenges recently were my wonderful father-in-law being critically ill and in palliative care at his home in NZ; my wife in locked down NZ caring for her father and infirm mother; an adult son needing my support in Canberra, and my own my late octogenarian parents in isolation in regional NSW. Added to this was the ARLF needing staff support so our organisation can adapt quickly to the fast changing economic and social contexts. 

With these rapid and profound changes, any of the principles and processes we embed in ARLF leadership development programs quickly became very much more real, very personal and very helpful. Values needed to be affirmed, communication had to be clear and I’ve had to rely greatly on family, friends and work colleagues. Priorities had to be quickly assessed and changed, and difficult actions taken so my family, myself and our work can keep moving forward, even if the way forward is far from clear.  
Similar to our structured ARLF programs, COVID-19 has created an out-of-comfort-zone, albeit a massive one compared to those in our courses. This discomfort I can choose to respond to as a threat, or I can choose to respond as if it is a unique learning and leadership development opportunity.

It is early days yet in this pandemic, but so far I’m pleased to be able say that telling myself “It’s all in the book” and “You have all the resources you need” has helped enable my family and me to adjust reasonably well. Every day I have found that reflecting on and applying ARLF leadership development principles and processes to be very reassuring and practically useful in this complex COVID19 context. 

Thank you to my family, my ARLF colleagues and the many amazing ARLF alumni I’ve come to know so well. Whether you realise it or not, I’ve been drawing extra inspiration and strength from every one of you over the past few weeks. With love, compassion, cooperation and connectivity, the most difficult of natural catastrophes can be navigated together.   

Graham’s COVID-19 Self-Iso Recipe:
– Take time to look at the sunset.
– Remind the dog he’s already had his dinner. Repeat non-stop.
– Find whatever ingredients are on hand. Preferably include a range of colours.
– Cut the ingredients small.
– Enjoy the cooking process, and the product will turn out fine.