Week 2: Lesley

The end of March 2020 saw a cascade of strict lockdowns across Victoria, and suddenly the entire world was at home, adapting to a strange new reality. For Lesley Ber, it meant pivoting to an online workspace and tending to her now tightly packed family. As a sitting board member of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, Victoria, Lesley continued to work as a member of the finance committee. Of course, as is all too familiar to many professional women, even in times of crisis within their own workplaces, they are still the nuclei of their own families.

Lesley’s home, which had not seen everyone together under its roof at one time before, now housed her parents and her immediate family. The hard reality of the new coronavirus also made itself felt in her son, who was quarantined away from the rest of the family after having had a potential contact from a classmate (luckily, he tested negative!). Keeping her son isolated meant that Lesley had to carry him his meals and anything else he needed while he finished his quarantine period. Through all of this, she put her head down and carried herself as a board member and a parent while confined within four walls.

By her own description, Lesley is a doer. Where others in her position typically delegate and apportion work among staff members, Lesley will often take the task herself and push through. And that is how she saw herself - as a pragmatic, action-oriented individual whose main fallback in unfamiliar situations was to get to work researching and familiarizing herself with new tasks and responsibilities. She was a hard-working member of NCJWA’s leadership cadre, and yet she did not feel like a leader.

A leader, as she saw it, was the strong outgoing individual typically associated with the so-called ‘great men’ of corporate and industrial C-suites. This kind of leader is supposed to have an overarching grasp of strategy and a grand plan that they leave to their subordinates to sort out the minutiae. The leader is the loudest voice in the room, and to him is left the final say. Lesley never felt that she could be at home in that role. She was not sure she could ever simply step up and assert command of a board room, or extract herself entirely from the specific gears and cogs of her own plans. She needed to be up close and personal with her goals and ideas, and she couldn’t step back from the line when a vital task was just waiting for someone to pick it up and do it. Lesley decided it was time to see if she could become the kind of leader she admired. That is when she heard from a colleague about LaunchPad Leadership.

"I was approached by somebody who said to me ‘Apply for LaunchPad Leadership.’ And I actually said, ‘But I’m not a leader, I’m a doer. I do things, I’m not a leader.’"

Lesley had little time for webinars, but decided that lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to put her toe in the water. LaunchPad Leadership was no webinar, as Lesley found out. After months of online meetings and Zoom chats, she felt a connection with the people on the other end of the line. In spite of social distancing, she felt a sense of community among her peers, all of them looking for answers and support. Of course, her old fears cropped up as she prepared for each online workshop.

“I was also a bit nervous about being put on the spot. I thought, what if they ask you things and you have all these great leaders, because all the people are so amazing on LaunchPad.”

Within minutes of each session, she realised that the participants were simply there to try and help each other. Lesley had done what she always did in the past when she felt she wasn’t up to standard - she did her homework. She quickly noticed how her answers and suggestions were being received. She was getting positive feedback and meaningful responses. She hadn’t been the loudest voice in the room or the most extroverted member. She read, analysed, and gave answers and advice.

“Everyone’s just trying to learn, and to gain. I now go on a Tuesday, I look so forward to it, and I don’t have any more of those feelings that I’ve got to prove something.”

Lesley hadn’t stepped up and monopolised the online conference as the stereotypical leader might be imagined to do. And yet, she had taken a leadership role and had joined a community of leaders.

A particular moment stands out to Lesley. Tracie Olcha, the CEO of Australian Jewish Funders, gave her a piece of advice that she herself had once received. As Lesley recalled, “Nobody’s going to hand you leadership. If you want to do it, take control and do it.”

Lesley wasn’t lacking a leader’s instinct or characteristics. She had the will and intuition of a leader, but was not aware of it. As someone who knows first hand the challenges of working on an individual project and getting a grasp on new information, Lesley is perfectly suited for the role of the leader. She knew the stress and strain that individuals experienced in unfamiliar and overwhelming situations. She knew, as an outsider, the challenge of finding one’s way in.

What she needed was an epiphany - that leadership is not given, but taken. Lesley was able to find a new community and a library of connections facilitated directly through LaunchPad Leadership. Already, Lesley is coordinating with other LaunchPad Leadership participants to begin collaboration between their organisations. She was also able to find growth. She was now aware of her own leadership style, of its strengths and capabilities, and could use that knowledge going forward. She not only has the tools, but the confidence and the support to bring her ideas into the light and begin building upon them for the future.

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