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Leadership with purpose - Leadership series interview
[RMIT SENIOR LECTURER LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT ANDY WEAR TALKS TO PROFESSOR SHERMAN YOUNG, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY VICE-CHANCELLOR EDUCATION, ON A SPLIT-SCREEN VIDEO CALL]
[ANDY WEAR IS SHOWN SEATED IN AN OFFICE AND SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO CAMERA]
Well, Sherman, thanks so much for joining us for this leadership series on leadership with purpose-- or purposeful leadership, whichever way you want to position it. I'm just going to ask you a few questions today about your own journey and your own experience. I wouldn't mind starting off talking about your leadership role. Did you like aspire to leadership? Or did you-- or did leadership sort of find you?
Yeah, look, I think it was probably the latter. I mean, I've had one of those kinds of lives where I never really aspired to even a career. And things kind of just fell into my path. And I took them. It's been an interesting journey. You know, I don't know how much detail you want me to go into, but I was very much an accidental academic. I worked in media production for a long time. Had a firm which did multimedia production back in the 90s. Was enjoying it but a bit bored. And I felt like a bit of my brain wasn't being used. I was just like, you know, the design and production guy.
So, I ended up doing a bit of a Masters-- I did a Master's program in Media Technology and Law and that led into a PhD scholarship and I ended up with, you know, the usual kind of like living to meet the time, the usual kind of like being a sessional staff member at three different universities at the same time teaching a course, you know. Very similar courses at different campuses. It was the usual life, the package. And then, got offered a continuing role at Macquarie Uni. And in many ways, that was great, because I was using my brain and I was enjoying the teaching and enjoying the research and starting to-- starting to understand what it meant to be an academic. And actually, quite enjoying what it meant to be an academic.
And then, the story I like to tell, and there's a certain-- what's that word? There's a certain trickiness to it or not. But the story I like to tell is that around the time I began as an academic, I had my first child. Very foolishly, because the waiting list for childcare in Sydney were very long, I ended up getting childcare at work. And, you know, I was living across town from work, but it meant that in order to get childcare, I had to go to work. Which isn't always the academic aspiration, because sometimes you want to, you know, be doing your research at home et cetera, et cetera. But no, had to go, because the childcare was at work.
And so, I found myself in the office a lot more then perhaps some of my colleagues were. And so, often someone would be strolling down the corridor looking for someone to chair a committee or to do this or to do that, and I would be the only one there. And so, you know, all of a sudden I got tapped on the shoulder for this and that and the other. And then, all of a sudden, I was an Associate Dean, and then I became a PVC. That's kind of the pathway. I've always subscribed to that kind of view that the way to have an interesting life is to say yes more often. So, I tend to say yes to these things. And certainly, I guess I landed in leadership roles, rather than sought them out.
Having said that, I've quite enjoyed them, and I certainly learnt a lot. And I would certainly encourage anyone who had the opportunity to really explore it seriously, because you do is learn a lot. Not just about the job and the activity, but also about yourself. And how to act and what you are capable of doing in sometimes tricky and sometimes really fantastic circumstances.
Yeah, right, gosh there's a lot of parallels there that I can draw with my own experience. Certainly, having children and doing a PhD is something I'm very familiar with. So, yes, I'm hearing you there. It's really nice to where you were getting too at the end though is probably a nice segue into my next question which is around leadership with purpose. What does purposeful leadership or purpose mean to you in context of leading?
Yeah, yeah, and it's really interesting, because the more-- the more I've been in these roles, the more important it's been to me to think about that purpose. And, you know, as one does in these roles, you have professional development opportunities and you get to do, you know, Australian Institute of Company Directors courses and all that sort of stuff. And you walk away from those kinds of more corporate opportunities and you go, you know what, there's a reason why I'm at university and it's because of a couple of things. One, there's a value set, particularly at RMIT, which resonates with me. The embrace of diversity, the opportunity that it gives to people that perhaps otherwise wouldn't have opportunity. That desire to improve people's lives. That value set is really important.
And then, that kind of purpose thing, we had a bit of a planning session in my team where we talked about the values. And then someone said, and I can't claim any credit for that. Someone just put up their hand and said, all those values are great, you know we are all here because we believe in the power of education to transform lives. And I went, yeah, that's right. That's why we're here. That's why we're not working in a bank, that's why we're not working at an airline or we're working for PwC or a consultancy firm. We are here because we believe that what we're doing can transform lives.
And I think that, in many ways, it is the North Star. It's like, you know, if you don't believe in that, you shouldn't be here. And that should be driving all of our actions and what we are striving for. So, yeah, very, very clear that that purpose is all-encompassing and all important. And at the centre of that, that transformation, are people. And the transformation of our students lives. But it's also the transformation of our colleague's lives and the ability for them to lead fulfilling lives and to continue to develop, both as people in work, but also in their broader-- their broader engagement with the world.
Yeah, no, wonderful response. And you sort of pre-empted my next question, which is what do you focus on? What is the single thing that keeps up that North Star you were talking about and having a response to that transformational capacity that education brings is-- sounds like that is that for you.
Otherwise, you know, you could be doing a whole range of like-- these sorts of leadership roles, in many ways, are transportable in terms of the skill set. And, you know, there are many roles out there that I really, really think-- you know, in some ways you are kind of a HR manager and a budget person, all of that kind of classic management stuff. And some of it's bloody awful, but you know that you are doing it, not to make more profits for a bank, but in order to enable and empower people to live their best lives. And I think that's really important.
Yeah. And I guess-- I mean, for myself and it sounds like with your experience, one of the things is having had that transformational experience yourself. So, it sounds like your journey-- like I said, there are a few parallels with mine in that one style is here. And then, I entered this educational process a little later in life with a PhD and that sort of more advanced degrees. And you do see that transformation and you feel it yourself. And I imagine that would be highly informative.
Is there something you would say, like for those of us in Higher Ed in leadership roles who may be haven't had that really transformational experience or can't quite tap into that? Is that an essential factor? I mean, what can we do for others for whom the last time they read Uni might have been 27 years ago and they are still--
Yeah, yeah, look there's a couple of things I would always say and some of them are really easy to do and others are harder. The hardest thing that I say that you should do in the leader and academic space, particularly in a teaching institution, is you know, teach a big first year course. You know, just go through what you have to go through to teach 500 or 1000 students and get them through a semester of learning and mark all their assessments and, you know, deal with the questions and all of that.
Just do that because it's really important to understand and to empathise with what our colleagues have to do. And I have to confess, it's been a number of years since I've taught a big first year course, but I do remember it very clearly and the challenges involved. And so, I think that empathy is really important. But the one thing that you can do in order to remind yourself of the transformation, is to speak to students. And if you just-- there are many opportunities, even in a leadership role, because you'll sit next to students at functions or your go to kind of events on campus and you can chat to students. You just have to, you know, ask them what their aspirations are, what they are hoping to achieve, where they come from, what their story is, what their journey is.
And nine times out of ten, you'll get an amazing story. And, you know, the other thing that I always like to say is that a university is made up of the stories of its staff and students. And if you understand and you listen to and you empathise with those stories, then that sense of transformation becomes incredibly apparent.
Yeah, totally agree. Sherman, really appreciate the time you've taken.
Look forward to maybe chatting to you again sometime during the course of our series. But yeah, really appreciate it.
Take care, see you Andy.