On the morning of Wednesday 3 May, the Faculty of Business and Economics Copland and Chancellor’s Scholars and leaders of faculty student clubs were treated to a Leadership Breakfast, with footy idol James Hird the guest speaker. As we sat at our places, fruit, toast, and juices of all kinds were served – a welcome distraction where on James’ table nervous upward glances in his direction were proliferating. Perfectly at ease James quickly engaged us with his good-humoured conversation, his infectious geniality soon spreading across the table.
Some minutes afterwards, he stood to begin his address, briefly prefacing proceedings with his intention to rely on us, the audience, for the direction of the morning. What followed was a powerful and highly interactive discussion of values and ideas that underlie the concept of leadership . Intermittently, James would ask students around the room how they perceived the notion of leadership, not only providing a cross-section of our varied definitions, but simultaneously revealing our guest speaker’s remarkable memory for names!
The flavour of the morning was diversification – and not the kind that forms an important part of the risk-averse investor’s balance sheet, but rather diversification in the formation of a successful management team. James spoke about the selection of his assistant coaching staff at Essendon, informed by the desire to achieve a diverse and well-rounded leadership group. He discussed the way in which he selected individuals who complemented each other, for example, ensuring that hard-line assistant coach Bomber Thompson was balanced with others on the coaching staff who deliver more of a nurturing role, helping to maintain buoyant sentiment at the club.
He then arrived at what he described as the essence of leadership – understanding what motivates the people you lead. This was a rule he found equally applicable in all disciplines, putting it into practice broadly among young less experienced players at the Essendon Football Club, and among budding statisticians in his highly successful sports marketing firm “Gemba”.
Above all, James emphasised the importance of setting and projecting a clear set of values, to which your organisation must adhere. The formation of a principled culture is the ultimate responsibility of the leader, he told us, and is a non-negotiable imperative to a firm’s long-term success.
It was all over too soon and James had to rush off to another commitment before our applause could be converted to bashful professions of admiration. The lucky ones had a quick photo taken with him, while the rest of us were left to consider the sound advice of a great man. It was an inspiring occasion enjoyed by all – our sincere gratitude goes to former Dean, Professor Margaret Abernethy for her proposal of James as a speaker and to all those involved in its organisation. Certainly a morning to remember!
By Walter Myer, BCom student and Chancellor’s Scholar