Ready to lead? These business alumni want to boost your leadership skills – for free

Are you an aspiring leader, or an established leader looking to upskill during COVID-19? Be inspired by Sam and Brad, two of the talented alumni behind La Trobe’s free online leadership development program.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, businesses are facing ongoing and unexpected challenges. Being able to lead responsively is critical: managing yourself and others during uncertainty, while also tackling things like crisis management, supply chain disruptions, workforce changes and shifting strategy.

To help you hone your leadership skills, La Trobe University is offering a free online leadership development program until December 2020. The four-part, 20-hour course is open to everyone. What’s more, it’s run by leading business academics and alumni from our Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, who are volunteering their time.

"These alumni have vital skills because they've either built their own businesses, or they've got a very good career with their own organisation,” says Dr Geraldine Kennett, MBA Program Director at La Trobe.

Among those involved are Sam Birrell (MBA 2017) and Brad Dodemond (Bachelor of Business 2011, Master of Management 2017, MBA 2018). Sam is CEO of the Committee for Greater Shepparton, an organisation that advocates for Victoria’s Greater Shepparton region, builds community and attracts investment. Brad is a HR leader for the Victorian Government’s Level Crossing Removal Project, which is overseeing one of the largest rail infrastructure projects in the state's history.

To give us a taste of the talent behind La Trobe’s leadership program, Sam and Brad stopped by to answer three quick questions on leadership. Hear their mentoring advice, understand the business decisions they’re making and the types of challenges they face every day as ‘leaders in lockdown’.

1. What’s the best piece of advice a business mentor has given you?

Explore all sides of an issue

“A former senator spoke to me about advocacy, advising that if you haven’t totally examined an issue from all sides, and used that examination to develop an authentic argument and position, then your inauthenticity will come through to your audience," says Sam.

“So, when advocating for our region, for projects and for government and private investment, I always ask myself, ‘What are the good arguments against this? Why should this person consider us when there are so many other good projects to fund?’ I also try to listen to media and commentary that is naturally opposed to my own views, to develop empathy with a different position.”

Never stop learning

"My dad is one of my biggest business mentors. He taught me to never stop reading and learning, bout business and the world. Even in my own short career, I’ve seen huge changes in the way we work and use technology. That was what inspired me to go back to La Trobe and do my MBA,” says Brad.

“La Trobe’s free leadership development course will get leaders, and aspiring leaders, who haven’t done some learning in a while really excited and allow them to challenge themselves. Learning is all about taking a leap of faith in yourself, being adventurous and having fun while you do it.”

2. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader?

Choices that drive dispute and demand a strong resolve

“It’s easy to advocate and work towards things that everyone agrees on, like a new hospital. The contentious stuff is harder. For example, we came out in support of the Shepparton Education Plan, an initiative which had at its heart a merger of the four state secondary schools in the region. We examined it from all sides and concluded it was the best chance of improving educational outcomes for our young people,”  says Sam.

“High quality education is the game-changer for our region – it will have a positive impact on all of our issues, from social disadvantage, to managing economic growth and homelessness. Almost all the challenges we face in the Greater Shepparton region have roots in young people falling through the cracks of education. However, not everyone supports the merger approach. There’s been backlash – in some cases very personal. But if you back away from the hard reforms, you’ll never achieve anything of significance.”

Forward-planning for workforce diversity

“It’s such a challenging and exciting time to be a HR leader in a city-shaping project like the Level Crossing Removal Project. As an organisation, we really want to leave a legacy – not just with the removal of the level crossings, but also in our ways of working and workforce planning. We want to leave the construction industry in a better place than when we started,”  says Brad.

“Right now, I’m working on a lot of workforce planning initiatives with our executives, making decisions to ensure we have the right skills, in the right place and at the right time for the project. This includes a lot of diversity initiatives, such as encouraging more women into the transport construction industry, as well as working with asylum seekers and refugees to help them establish new careers in Australia.”

3. What’s the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Defining and finding your audience

“Every business has a core audience, whether that be your customers, your viewers or your electorate. But today, that audience is becoming increasingly fragmented and polarised,” says Sam.

“In the ‘90s, for example, everyone communicated and advertised through a few TV stations and newspapers. Society seemed to be more homogenous in its general views, because there was a mainstream that communicated ideas. It’s so different now, with many more communication channels and the ability for fringe ideas to get out there and challenge us in a way we've never seen before. This might be good or bad, depending on what you think of each particular view. It creates both difficulties and opportunities.”

Supporting employees to embrace new ways of working

“COVID-19 has presented a whole host of new and exciting challenges! I’ve had to very quickly mobilise our entire office-based workforce to work from home," says Brad.

“We’re now talking about what a return to work might look like. We really want it to be an employee-led experience, where staff can determine how flexibly they want to work. This presents a huge challenge for leaders today, as we now need to learn how to keep teams motivated and together while we transition to a new world of work – one in which teams are no longer going to be working in an office 9am to 5pm. La Trobe’s online leadership development program will help you think outside the box and network with other leaders to solve these kinds of new problems.”

How to join La Trobe’s free, online leadership development program

Register now to join thousands of other individuals who re-thinking their approach to leadership during COVID-19. Through the course, you’ll become better able to respond to the immediate impacts of COVID-19, know where to look for opportunities at the end of the pandemic, and develop resilience to endure future challenges on the other side of the crisis.

Enjoyed this alumni story? Read more like it.

Photo credits: Sam Birrell by The Adviser; Brad Dodemond by Cognology.