Week 1: Leon

For anyone in medical services at the beginning of 2020, the onset of COVID 19 held foreboding and threat, but did not constitute a dire emergency right away. For Leon Landau, it was not initially worrying, even if the circumstances became continually more and more dire. As General Manager for Chevra Hatzolah Melbourne, he would have to coordinate the dozens of first responders serving the greater Melbourne community in the event of an outbreak. And yet, there were all the hallmarks that it would be under control. Similar outbreaks had been dealt with in the past. Within a few weeks, however, it was apparent how powerful the threat actually was.

When the virus finally arrived in full strength, its effects were felt immediately. New regulations demanded that first responders have face masks donned and PPE at hand on every visit and house call. Certain staffers were at too high a risk to respond in person, and suddenly Leon found that he was somewhat short on staff at such a critical hour. The dispatch centre now needed to be held remotely, and each dispatcher now responded to incoming calls on a cellular network.

PPE was in terribly low supply, and Leon found himself forced to browse online retailers late at night looking for face masks and other protective equipment. Not only was it in short supply, but it was also now exorbitantly expensive. In a little more than a week, Hatzolah had spent around $30,000 to keep the emergency response service running. Thankfully, it was in the community that Leon found an ally, and donations poured in to help offset the tremendous expense.

Leon quickly realised how everyone suddenly needed friends, and how both PPE and friends seemed in critically short supply. The world was so very “siloed,” he put it. Organisations were involved in their own districts and their own concerns, focusing on the slivers of community they served. In the face of such a universal crisis, Leon knew that uniting with other local organisations would be critical to survival.

In the world Leon knew before a global pandemic, reaching out to others was difficult for two primary reasons: for one, in a competition-centred world, reaching out to similar orgs could be seen as potential rivalry amongst non-profits all vying for funding and support; for another, sabotaging self-doubt creeping in the back of any mind keeps us from picking up the phone or sending an email.

“Why would they need me?” Leon asked himself when he thought of trying to reach out to other medical services in Melbourne.

When Leon applied for LaunchPad Leadership, he saw it as a way to break from the endless hours of work he had put into Hatzolah and take some time to help his own personal development and be away from myriad consuming concerns. Maybe it was a webinar he could sit through and learn some facets of leadership that he could take back and apply to the crisis at hand.

What LaunchPad Leadership turned into for Leon was a series of doors. A community of leaders had opened up to him, and they were all looking for the same thing - friends in a time of need. In a socially-distanced world, the pixelated video conferences and compressed voices of the participants suddenly rang truer than they had before. Without shaking a single hand, each were allying together to help serve their communities and philanthropic goals. Melbourne had suddenly opened up to Leon in ways it could never have before.

Within a few weeks of beginning LaunchPad Leadership, he had already reached out to seven organisations and networked with their staff and leadership. A whiteboard in his spartan office at Hatzolah lists a network of local non-profits that he has already reached out to. Leon felt that he was operating in an entirely new world of opportunities and alliances. Where everyone had begun to feel just how isolated and alone they were, LaunchPad Leadership put these leaders together into one virtual room.

Where Leon had before felt that he himself and the rest of the LaunchPad Leadership participants had been “siloed” away from each other and wrapped up in their own concerns, he now felt united with an entire community of like-minded individuals.

He realised, with relief, that he was not the only leader with the challenges and problems he had to solve. All of them were here with the same challenges, the same seemingly insurmountable issues, and they were all reaching out to each other for help and guidance.

LaunchPad Leadership confirmed for Leon something he had always felt had been true. Leadership was not the virtue of the heartless or the cold. A critical part of leadership was knowing how to be vulnerable to others and knowing when to reach out for help. Leaders who relied only on themselves and put on a steely exterior were going to remain exactly as they seemed to want: alone and without the friends that they needed.

For Leon, this was the real asset of LaunchPad Leadership - coming to a virtual roundtable of leaders with all of their strengths and vulnerabilities, finding ways to best serve their community and stay focused in the future. Above all, it was finding friends in a struggle that even the stoniest and staunchest of leaders could not hope to survive alone.

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