Dr Leanne Blackley: Confidence is a muscle you build through exertion. It comes with practice.

Dr Leanne Blackley has spent over a decade leading complex HR and corporate functions and is a Senior Executive Service Band 1 level in the Australian Public Service (APS). 

Leanne has acquired diverse experiences serving in many public sector agencies, both Commonwealth and State, since 1998.  She started her policy experience in multicultural affairs, access and equity, and implementing programs delivering settlement services in regional NSW and the ACT. She has also led family migration policy, shaped client service strategy, and undertaken numerous corporate roles relating to the Commonwealth budget, learning and development, HR, governance and transformation and IT strategy. She has a doctorate in history and sociology.

In this interview, Leanne shared with me her reflections on collaboration, change and courage… 

You have worked in various leadership positions, how do you approach leading a new team?

Leanne: When I start in a leadership role, I share a bit about myself as a leader to ground what is important to me and connect.  My expectations of myself are framed around six Cs – communication, courage, collaboration, creativity, compassion and calm. I endeavour to keep these six traits at the forefront of my mind, and they help inform me of how I want to ‘be’ as a leader.

A recent career role has challenged me in a few ways, and I would now add the values of choice, consistency and candour as values that help centre me and sustain my resilience. 

Can you tell me about how you navigate change?

Leanne: My imagination was captured when reading about a starling murmuration. Murmuration is the term used to describe birds moving together, including changing direction together.

I think that murmuration is a beautiful metaphor for change.

We often fear change. We desire a life like Plan A.  At its worst, we might tolerate Plan B. But the reality is real life is more like a murmuration. We must move and change together.

Regardless of whether you are initiating change or you are experiencing it – I think it helps to strive for a sense of agency.  If you see a gap– don’t sit on the sidelines – step into the gap. Change can be difficult no doubt, sometimes there we even relapse.  We should be kind to ourselves and others in those scenarios. 

My husband is originally from Denmark. Danes practice “hygge” as a state of mind. It is a fundamental aspect of good living, yet they all work together to make it happen. Hygge is “we time,” not “me time”.  

Like murmuration, there is a lesson in that for us about how we not only think about change but how we show up and take action.  Come to the table or a discussion with a willingness to call out problems or risks but do not be afraid to give things a go.

How have you found the different roles and leadership positions you have taken on have shaped your outlook on confidence?

Leanne: Many times I have started roles that were very new to me in which I learnt and grew.  Much exhaustion as well as exertion was a feature of some of my roles, especially in roles where you are working at the heart of government. I sometimes worked to the early hours of the morning, after a long day.  In these jobs you are truly at the service of ministers and senior public servants.  The easy thing would have been to walk away from such a challenge but this stretch opportunity was worth it – sometimes, you just can’t see it while you are in the midst of it!

Confidence is a muscle you build through exertion. It comes with practice. 

I try to remember that courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s the ability to take action in the face of fear. 

What kind of leadership do you think is needed now?

Leanne: I believe people-focused, empathetic leadership is what is needed right now.  I believe if you display empathy people will follow.  I want to show warmth in my leadership, to be real and offer an inclusive environment where trust is high.  Most modern issues or problems to be solved are complex, and require questions, thought and multiple voices.  I want to encourage a style of leadership that gives people the tools and environment they need to fly and get on with their work.  People need to feel empowered and have a sense of progress.

I want to balance my leadership approach with the courage to think big and be bold in both action and thought.  I have learnt from others and try to foster the same: creativity, collaboration and courage are required for success.

In work, the business world and society – we need to be able to display confidence yet have the ability to adapt and evolve in the face of uncertainty when there may not be a right answer. We want leaders who are smart, deeply self-reflective and can ‘sense’ what is happening around them and the broader context – and take decisive action.  But we do not want smart asses.  Being humble and open to other ideas is important.

How do you like to reflect your gratitude and recognise the work of others?

Leanne: It is important to celebrate wins – whatever others’ perceptions.  It builds community and respects the commitment of others. In their book Courageous Cultures, Hurt and Dye say: “if you want more solutions, start with thank you”.  

I also like to practice giving kudos to my team (gift vouchers and chocolates) as giving thanks in this way can let people really feel your gratitude for the work they do.  It has to be genuine and heartfelt. Whatever the pressures we face – a good motto to practice – “Always think the best of people”. 

Define and achieve your own leadership vision

Join Dr Kim Vella for the 1-day Achieve Your Leadership Vision Workshop. This will be held on 29 July 2022 in Canberra.

Together, we will:

  • discuss the true meaning of a leadership vision and how it can change your life
  • uncover some of the roadblocks that may be obstructing your vision
  • define a clear and achievable vision you can aspire to
  • use practical tools to set a roadmap for success
  • address typical challenges you may face and how to overcome them

Seats are limited so register early to secure your spot.

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