The founding story

This foundation story has been brought together through a series of live interviews and written recollections gathered during October 2016. All of the founding Board members were asked to recall their version of events as to how Tasmanian Leaders started, as were many presenters, champions, mentors, public servants, Tasmanian business leaders and political figures. Deep gratitude is extended to everyone who sat around the metaphorical campfire and told their stories.

Everything we know in the world today started from a tradition of oral history. Stories, lessons, parables, ways of being and thinking, were all passed down the line through transmission from teacher to tribe. In a time where technology shifts and transitions occur at the speed of light, a commitment to oral history has been kept alive through the Tasmanian Leaders Program. At the commencement of each Program, the story of how the organisation and Program came to be is shared with the group, initiating all Program participants into the intent and responsibility they too must hold, to carry the legacy of dynamic, self-aware leadership into Tasmanian communities.

The first Residential of the Tasmanian Leaders Program was in May 2007. But why was TLP created? And by whom?

As the saying goes, success has many parents. The Tasmanian Leaders Program was conceived as an evolution from the Ortus Star program, set up and run by John Perry, Anthea Pritchard and Amanda Wotjovicz at the University of Tasmania. Prior to Ortus Star, John had seen the transitional gap between the University and the workforce for the students he stewarded at Christ College, and was determined to better prepare them for that transition. He was also thoughtful that in his own profession as a lawyer, the chance for networking was often siloed into events with other lawyers, creating insular professional experiences that lacked diversity of thinking.

For Ortus Star, John enlisted stellar presenters with wide-ranging experience, like Kathryn Thomas, Wendy McCarthy, Simon Longstaff, Brian Lewis and Gillian Biscoe, and, unsurprisingly, the Ortus Star program was lauded a great success and won the Queen’s Trust for Young Australians Tasmanian Award in its second year. The problem was that Ortus Star was limited to the University, and when John moved to the United Kingdom, the program lost its champion, and faded away.

The process of getting that program up and running had illuminated to John a bigger need in Tasmania for a program that not only built leadership skills, but had diversity and community at the core of its DNA. His distance from Tasmania didn’t diminish the realisation that someone had to make it happen.

John set out to identify the ingredients of some of the most successful community leadership programs elsewhere, in order to pioneer a world-leading program for Tasmania. It needed to be independently run, and separate to the university and government environment. It needed to have a true diversity of participants: gender, interests, geography, background, age group (with a focus on the next generation), experience, roles, education, political and social persuasions. This diversity would create the richest of learning environments and new networks to leverage across the State. It needed to promote the collaborative action required to support the aim of being a key contributor to Tasmania’s future success. It needed to encourage a deeper understanding of leadership in cross-sectoral issues in Tasmania – economic, political, social and environmental – and engender the commitment of participants to Tasmania’s future, whether from within Tasmania or as ambassadors from beyond its shores.

As information was being gathered from other leadership programs like Common Purpose in the UK, and the Williamson Community Leadership Program in Victoria, the seed of the idea took root. John was gathering a cohort of people who would become the exoskeleton of Tasmanian Leaders Inc (TLI). When John pitched the idea over the phone to each of his trusted mentors, co-workers, friends and domain knowledge leaders, it was their reinforcement of the need for the program, and their willingness to contribute, that turned the seed into a sprout that was about to break ground.

Anthea Pritchard vividly remembers that first phone call. Having worked with John on Ortus Star, she knew that her encouragement to proceed was also a tacit commitment to sign on to the journey. “I knew John well enough to know he wasn’t just asking for my opinion and endorsement. A ‘yes’ wasn’t a philosophical yes. It meant stepping up and on board for whatever this program was going to become, giving whatever it took.” Anthea started to lay some of the foundations, begin the networks and the arduous process of sourcing funding for something that didn’t currently exist.

John and Anthea incorporated Tasmanian Leaders Inc in 2004 in preparation for submitting a funding proposal.

A steering committee had been formed earlier to progress the idea and that committee became the first TLI Board which held its first meeting on 10 December 2005. Joining John and Anthea were Brian Lewis and Gillian Biscoe. Brian and Gillian had first worked with John as part of Ortus Star, and as Tasmanians who were global experts in strategy, organisational development and leadership, they both wanted to give back to their State. They caught the vision from the get-go, and for a decade have been significant contributors, driving the content and delivery of the Program that has so profoundly impacted its participants.

Gillian distinctly recalls the early days of her career when she started out in Tasmania, and how beneficial a leadership program such as the Board was conceiving would have been to her during that time. “We weren’t just developing a program, we were developing a philosophy for people to build their interpersonal strengths, and through that leverage new possibilities in their careers, lives and communities.” This intent was a key part of the uniqueness of the Tasmanian Leaders Program – it sought to build a socially vibrant, economically sound and strongly connected future for Tasmania.

Brian Lewis jumped into the task enthusiastically. “What impressed me [about John and Anthea], apart from their drive and determination, was the capacity to make things happen. Plenty of people have good ideas and intentions but nothing actually occurs. When John and Anthea approached me to be part of what became Tasmanian Leaders I had no hesitation in offering support – without quite knowing what that might mean.” A decade on, it has meant a lot to the 224 past participants. Brian and the foundational TLI Board members are very clear about the collegial nature of the development and delivery of the Program from inception to now, described by Brian as, “standing on the shoulders of giants – and many of them.”

The first Tasmanian Leaders Inc Board were the original shoulders that took a heavy part of the load by turning the newly conceived Tasmanian Leaders Program from an idea to a funded, working program. As John had been musing around how Ortus Star could be developed, he had approached the Queen’s Trust for funding and had undertaken a leadership program with them. Bob Campbell was the then State Director of the Trust, and he remained part of the discussions with John as a mentor and sounding board as ideas took form. When Bob was asked to join the first TLI Board he said yes. He, like the others, believed in the people and the program’s potential but had concerns about how critical funding could be secured and sustained. Kathryn Thomas was the other original Board member. She too had met John and Anthea through Ortus Star, and at the outset was ‘humouring’ the concept, with a quiet concern about whether this baseline of an idea could be developed into the bedrock of a lasting program. However, she was prepared to roll up sleeves with the other TLI Board members, as, like them, she had faith in the people, and faith in the concept.

The Board had to secure enough funding to be able to deliver their vision, and a first cohort of participants and employers had to be found – people who were prepared to dedicate a year of their lives to an untried and untested concept of leadership development. However, as the Board waded into the turbulent waters of politics to secure support for the initial program, the candidate selection still seemed a long way off. It was clear that the Tasmanian Government would be the most likely foundation investor in the program, with corporate sponsorship to be sought once it was up and running, along with financial contributions from participant and employer fees. Participants and their workplaces having ‘skin in the game’ was important to commitment and the perceived and actual value of the TLP. The initial startup investment was crucial, as was the tangible tri-partisan government support, to ensure that the program was seen as politically neutral and here for the long haul in order to maximise its contribution to Tasmania’s future.

This part of the origin story of the Tasmanian Leaders Program was arguably the most fraught. The stable engine room of the Board had coalesced quickly, driving the idea forward with clear vision and articulating the proof of concept. Tasmanian political elder Don Wing facilitated an introduction for the Board to the then Tasmanian Treasurer David Crean to pitch the concept and its value to Tasmania. However, David resigned before a meeting could be held. Then Premier Jim Bacon was to be approached to pitch the project but he also left office due to illness before John was able to meet with him.  The Steering Committee decided to allow six months before approaching new Premier Paul Lennon. Former Premier Michael Field (a former board member of Ortus Star) was called upon to broker a new meeting. Early on 8 December 2004, around the Premier’s kitchen table in Brighton, John and Gillian delivered the pitch about this new and innovative multi-sectoral leadership program to the Premier and his adviser, Mathew Healey, and sought support of the new Government for three years’ funding.

The Premier saw the merit and, importantly, there was growing support from those who advised and made policy to fund the new program as an election promise. Mel Maddock was Lara Giddings’ Chief of Staff at the time, and had heard about the Program from Michael Field, met John Perry and loved the idea. By the time the election rolled around, Mel was working for Paul Lennon as Director of Policy for his election campaign. Aided by many months of ongoing lobbying about the program by Don Wing, then President of the Legislative Council, on 20 September 2005, the Tasmanian Leaders Program was included in Premier Lennon’s State of the State address and funding for three years was secured. It had gained a stable link to the Government through what was then the Department of Economic Development under Minister Lara Giddings and Secretary Norm McIlfactrick, who became a member of the TLI Board. Norm was a champion of leadership programs and during his time at Aurora Energy had seen the change they could make in productivity, capacity and morale. He still feels the same and states that organisations that don’t invest in leadership aren’t real organisations. After two years of hard work by the TLI Board, the Tasmanian Leaders Program had funding and a supportive home in Government, and could now be formally rolled out.

With foundation funding secured, Gillian and Brian were tackling the Program content for the first Residential. They were confident in their experience and capacity and had the support of the Board to do what they did best and so the race was on to engage a Program Manager and recruit the first year’s (TLP1) participants. The Program Manager needed a particular set of skills and the capacity to work nimbly and innovatively with government. There were several short-term appointments while TLP1 started, with the Board taking an operational as well as governance role. Each Program was to be 12 months long, corresponding with the calendar year, so one Program would dovetail into the next without crossover. However with what seemed to the Board like so much time passing by and a desire not to lose another year, TLP1 commenced with an opening retreat at Cradle Mountain from 4-7 May 2007.  Consequently, the first two TLPs did cross-over, TLP1 finishing early in 2008 after TLP2 had started. Since then, each Program has been completed in each calendar year.

The first long-term Program Manager appointment, critical in the early years, was the secondment of Jennifer Lee from the then Tasmanian Department of Economic Development. Jennifer was with the organisation for two and a half years and established sound administrative procedures and systems while supporting the Program and its participants.

Jennifer said stepping into the role of TLP Program Manager was like riding a tornado. “I took over the role in early January. The first Program was to be launched in May 2007. John was in London, and the rest of the Board were champing at the bit, with a very clear idea of what had to be done.” Jen took a deep breath and launched herself into the Program, doing everything from purchasing morning tea to being the face of the Program. She recalls the anxiety and nervousness on the night before the first Residential, and the deep relief she felt when she approached the venue on the first day and heard the excited chatter of participants from some distance away.

The strong focus on diversity resulted in a broad gamut of people from all over Tasmania becoming the first group to do the Tasmanian Leaders Program. Geographically, there had been challenges working out how to make a program that didn’t favour only urban participants, but was inclusive enough to draw people from the North West, West and Northern corners of the State. This was aided by regional Residentials that from TLP2 onwards kicked off in Strahan, followed by a mid-year Residential in Freycinet, with a final wrap up at Cradle Mountain. This enabled an embedded experience for all participants, to: switch off; focus on the leadership learnings; visit diverse projects; meet people from all over the State; hear their stories; and develop a holistic view of Tasmanian communities. The diversity piece was strongly about views and beliefs. The selection process was rigorous to ensure that the room was genuinely diverse. Gillian was clear that to achieve the Program’s outcomes, there had to be examination of divergent viewpoints represented in Tasmanian communities through civil, informed and reflective engagement. Only then could productive collaboration through leadership begin to happen.

The Program facilitated, led, pushed and supported participants as they challenged each other and presenters on a wide variety of issues to reach new understandings of the world, of Tasmania, of themselves and each other – and of the nature of leadership and their future roles and responsibilities as leaders. They achieved break-though thinking about their potential and how to achieve it, along with a clearer view of how they could – and should – contribute to Tasmania. Brian and Gillian created a safe yet challenging environment at each of the Residentials for participants to achieve this. Between the three Residentials were eight two-day Linking Sessions where experts, critical thinkers and local and visiting leaders from all sectors gave their time and expertise freely, to model the TLP value that a part of true leadership is to pay back to one’s community. The first year’s cohort of TLP1 in 2007 were pioneers of a growing and strong Alumni. They regard themselves as the TLP ‘elders’ and are fierce advocates for the Program.

From TLP3 in 2009 emerged a graduate who would later become the Program’s General Manager, Angela Driver. The role of General Manager was strategically revised with an emphasis on taking Tasmanian Leaders to its next phase. This involved Angela engaging with the ever growing Alumni, creating new value from their capacity, growing sponsorship and developing new activities such as Skillsbank, Thinkbank and the annual Alumni Conversation with the Premier. Working with the Board and its Alumni Sub-Committee, these innovations began to further contribute to Tasmania (see page 57 for the complete Alumni story).

As at February 2017, there have been ten Tasmanian Leaders Programs and the 11th Program has commenced. Recruitment starts in July each year with interviews in October, leading to the first nervous Residential in Strahan in February. Each year’s TLP creates four Learning Sets comprising six participants, each of which design and deliver community projects as part of the Program. These projects are conceived by the Learning Sets and submitted to the Board for the green light to proceed or rework, meeting the criteria of ‘small enough to do and big enough to matter’. The tangible return on investment to Tasmania through these projects is both evidence of TLP’s impact and a learning experience to enhance each participant’s future community contributions (see page 31 for project stories which showcase the delivery of a number of new services and ideas into Tasmanian communities).

Gillian and Brian’s formula for developing leaders, the details of which remain part of the magic and mystery of what happens under Chatham House Rule, is as potent ten years on as it was for the first group of 20 participants.

The early fears held by some Board members around the Program’s funding longevity and uptake were quickly dispelled. Every year there is a large excess of applicants for the 24 highly sought-after places on the Program. As hoped, private, public and not-for-profit sponsors saw the value of the Program once their people were participants, with the majority now long-term supporters.

Brian Lewis put the extraordinary journey of the TLP succinctly: “The Tasmanian Leaders Program has been a tremendous success, in ways that were intended and many others besides. I have been involved with hundreds of leadership development programs and activities around the world and this is as good as any of them, and better in some respects. It has been said often over the last decade – what makes Tasmanian Leaders great is the time, expertise and commitment of hundreds of people who engage with the participants in each Program or work behind the scenes to make it happen. The effort and impact of all these people should never be underestimated.”

And neither should the experience for participants. Kathryn Thomas believes the full impact of TLP will never truly be known. She says many of the participants from across the decade regularly contact her and share their stories of life, post-TLP. Every day they are making a difference by being better at their jobs, better employees, better contributors to their communities, better friends, parents and children, better ambassadors for Tasmania here and abroad, and fundamentally better people for themselves.

At the end of 2016, 40 graduates, champions, contributors and TLI Board members came together to plan for the next decade, to give back to the Program with their vision for its growth and how it can best deliver its goals. This represented a significant powerhouse of goodwill and momentum to carry the Program forward.

The origin of Tasmanian Leaders is a story of belief in a long game, of the need for a collegial approach where the sum of parts equals and exceeds the whole. It is a testimony to the value of strong friendships, networks and people. As John Perry says, “You never know the significance of the connections you make, and how people can help you – and you them.” It is a story of faith in collective capacity underpinned by strong values. As Tasmanian Leaders moves into its next decade, the challenges of strong leadership in rapidly changing times remain, as does the commitment and value of a Program that started from the simple idea that Tasmania could and should be an outstanding place of global excellence in which to live, work and do business.

This Program is delivering on that promise, one leader at a time, 24 leaders a year.