In 2016, at twenty nine years old, Tara Cheyne was first elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly. Following her re-election in October 2020, Tara was appointed to Cabinet as Minister for the Arts, Minister for Business and Better Regulation, Minister for Human Rights, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Assistant Minister for Economic Development.
Managing this diverse array of portfolios, alongside a busy team and the needs of her constituents, has sharpened Tara’s capabilities as a leader.
In this interview, Tara shared with me her reflections on vision, collaboration and communication…
Who was an inspiring leader to you growing up, and who inspires you now?
Tara: I’ve only realised the full extent of her impact as I’ve got older, but it was definitely my mother who has inspired me – then and now. She went to uni as a mature age student as I entered Year 1, and just over five years after she graduated she was a senior leader in a very male-dominated industry which had very few female leaders. She achieved this while completing her MBA via distance education. What has really stood out for me as I’ve got older is that this didn’t seem remarkable – she just did it – but she essentially paved the way for me; she was my own very close example of ‘you can be what you can see’. I realise that’s a real privilege and how lucky I am. It’s also inspired me to try to be that person for the next generation.
As new challenges confront us, we will need creativity, innovation, vision, and experience.￼ What is your vision, and how will it help us meet future challenges?
Tara: My vision as a politician is to be part of a team that is constantly striving to make Canberra the best place to live. It sounds really simple but it guides every decision and action, whether it’s helping a constituent with an inquiry, or to reform laws. “Am I helping make the city the best place to live? Am I helping this person enjoy their life in this city?” It’s also not something that ever stops: we are always working on this, and there is always more to do. I think it helps to meet future challenges because by my own values, and that of my party and the Government, we are progressive: by our own definition we are thinking about new, or more modern, ways of doing things.
What do you think every great collaboration needs, and how and who are you collaborating with currently?￼￼
Tara: Information, information, information. Sharing information is so important and yet it’s so easy to overlook or be unnecessarily protective of. Sharing information creates trust and loyalty. It breaks down barriers. Work happens much more quickly. When not enough information is shared, there are vacuums—which are never empty for long, because they get filled with theories or concerns, which you can then spend a lot of time trying to undo. Collaborations are about bringing different perspectives, talent and approaches, and everyone operating from as near enough the same information as possible is what will make those collaborations successful. I consider that I’m collaborating with everyone currently! From my team, to the community, to different areas across Government – we’re all working together because we want good things for our community.
What’s the most helpful leadership habit or skill you cultivate?
Tara: I would say that it’s caring. Again, that might sound a little vapid, but I think it matters so much, and it’s something I hope I’m remembered for. I think there is a lot of power in making it clear that you care, and it being understood, whether implicitly or explicitly. No matter who you are engaging with, showing that you care also shows that they matter and that their issue is important. Showing that you care can be through all sorts of different actions, whether it’s being completely present and engaged in a conversation or event, to sending a message that is really clear, to being very open about my feelings or my own experiences, to being responsive or acting quickly when a concern is raised.
In a world where telling, selling and yelling sometimes dominate, you seem to be on a mission to have conversations. How have you forged your unique approach to communicating your vision?
Tara: Communicating is strongly linked to the value I place on information and caring: I think that people are naturally curious and would like to know what’s happening, why something happened, or what I’m going to do about it. I try to share as much as I can as a result, whether it’s proactively or reactively. And it’s pretty impossible to over communicate (campaigning has taught me that there is always someone hearing your message for the first time, even if it’s the thousandth time for you). Part of that information sharing is also being really open about myself and how I feel about things, and ensuring people aren’t just heard but that they feel heard. For example, sometimes an action taken wasn’t enough, or wasn’t good enough, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Sharing information and being open is part of who I am, but it also helps to demonstrate that I care and it builds trust—and that’s a pretty strong starting point when sharing a new idea that’s part of achieving the vision.
What can you say to anyone who might fear having a vision or be afraid to make it clear to others?
Tara: I think your vision can occur at any time and can inform everything you do, no matter what level you are or role you’re in, and whether you tell others about it or not. Your vision, on a really simple level, is about what you’re trying to achieve on a day to day basis – what you are working towards. Defining your vision is helpful because everything you do flows from that: it can help you choose (or change!) your path, but it can also help you make decisions ie is what I’m doing part of my vision/going to take me or us a step closer to achieving that vision?
My vision really crystallised for me around 2014. I wasn’t elected – I wasn’t even a candidate – but I knew I loved Belconnen and wanted to ensure it kept being so great; I was in a role in the public service where I saw the direct benefit of actions and decisions we were taking on people’s lives; and I really believed in the direction the ACT Government was heading, with a new era of Canberra pride and everything that came with that, including jobs, a high standard of living and more services and nightlife. Wanting to be part of making this city the best place to live – which relates to ensuring people are living their best lives! – all became really obvious for me. And that’s what resulted in me changing my path to where I am today. I think I didn’t necessarily explicitly communicate my vision as I was honestly a bit scared – and scared to publicly fail in being preselected, let alone elected – but having the vision started guiding all of my decisions and activities, and where I was putting my effort.
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.