This article appeared in the March 2013 Edition of Australia’s WBM Wine Business Magazine.

“ If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Q. Adams 

One often hears the term ‘leadership’ and a raft of different images are created based on your own personal experiences of what leadership means to you. It’s often the most prominent roles that come to mind and leadership becomes clouded with profile, emotions, judgement and issues management.

However, it’s fair to say that having just completed the fifth intake of the Future Leaders Program*, each and every one of us involved have a different understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader and after a six month intensive program, we came away with a renewed commitment to how we can make a difference to the future of this industry.

This is our story… 

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Our journey began in May 2012. A group representing different facets of the wine industry met in freezing conditions in Tharwa in Canberra for a week long adventure that would challenge us physically, emotionally and intellectually.

We were known as group five (the Fifth intake of the program) and my comrades included James Agnew, Kristy Bartrop, Katherine Brown, Julian Forwood, Martin Gransden, Liam Heslop, Ashley Keegan, Daniel Killey, Victoria Leeke, Suzanne McLoughlin, Nikki Palun, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Scholz and Chris Tyrrell.

There was no time for ego’s, fine introductions or getting to know each other over a glass or three of fine red wine as is usually the custom.  We were quickly dragged out of our comfort zones and forced to work as a team to survive intense challenges.

Through expert facilitation provided by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, we saw each others’ strengths and weaknesses, but learned that we were stronger supporting each other and working as a group than as an individual.  It’s fair to say that this week in the Canberra bush was nothing short of life changing… it will stand out for all of us involved as a milestone allowing us to reflect on our own personal values, develop self awareness and achieve remarkable feats as a team.

The remainder of the course was conducted (luckily in slightly warmer conditions!) in intensive sessions in Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Adelaide and equipped us with hands on experiences with group dynamics, systems thinking, and negation skills. Through exposure to specialists in their fields we soon came to recognise the complexities of some of the big issues facing our industry – pressure from the health lobby, market forces, international imports etc. Whilst we don’t have the answers, we do feel that we developed frameworks of thinking to allow us to look at some macro issues in greater detail allowing us to make more informed decisions and understand some of the complexities at play.

As our group project, we were also charged with looking at some of the leadership issues facing competing land and environment issues facing the wine industry using case studies from the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale and the Tamar Valley in Tasmania. Our time spent in Tasmania looking at the Tamar Valley Pulp Mill Case Study was particularly powerful in putting some of the complex leadership issues into context and allowing us to think about how we’d do things differently if ever we were faced with similar situations.

Our legacy… 

Stories of mateship and camaraderie amongst the older statesmen of this industry are common. Helping each other survive the hardships, sharing knowledge to help achieve a better industry and being here for each other to celebrate successes. We can’t underestimate just how valuable these lifelong friendships will be or how inspired collectively we were at the end to make sure there is a sustainable industry for the next generation.

Returns on programs like we’ve just encountered are difficult to quantify and it’s often through a different lense that the true value is exposed. It can’t merely be measured by return on capital, or numbers of board positions held by previous participants. We’d like to think the true return on investment will be made for years to come, perhaps not until our own “Pulp-mill” moment where we all need to rally together and work as one to save the future of our industry.

So the beginning of the next chapter now starts. We’ve finished the formal learning and it’s time to put the actions into place. True leadership does not need to happen just from formal positions – it comes from a vision to inspire and create change.

*Launched in May 2006, The Future Leaders Program was compiled to help develop the skills and potential of the next generation of wine industry leaders. It is a joint initiative of WFA, Wine Grape Growers Australia, Wine Australia and the Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation.