Cotton industry leaders Fleur Anderson and John Durham graduated from course 25 of the ARLP with a ceremony in Canberra in late October.
Fleur is no stranger to the broader cotton community, with various leadership roles such as a Cotton Australia board member and Australian Cotton Conference Chair. Fleur is also an entrepreneur who runs the Rural Business Collective from her farm in Theodore, Central West Queensland. She is a strong advocate for regional areas and the people who live in them and has worked tirelessly for years promoting her home region and agriculture to the outside world.
So how does someone who we might already think of a successful leader become even more efficient through courses like the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s?
“I think you never really ‘arrive’ as a leader and I guess the biggest thing for me was two-fold,” she said.
“Firstly, it was the opportunity to step outside of my ‘day-to-day’ to focus on reflecting on my leadership style and where I want to take that into the future.
“It is an absolute luxury really to take that time, as we rarely get that opportunity in real life.
“Secondly I have heightened self-awareness: I think to be a truly effective leader you need to constantly hone your skills and develop your self-awareness.
“Knowing the impact you are having on others and how to work with a variety of people is probably in my experience the difference between authority and leadership.
“Being an adaptive leader and knowing what’s required in certain situations has been a valuable learning – you’ve got to be able to take people along with you!”
Fleur says despite this, she still experienced moments of doubt.
“I seriously debated whether I had the time to be on the course, and what I was going to get out of it but I think 15 months later I have emerged enthusiastic and excited about what I can contribute back to the industry, and most importantly do it from my own personal style of leadership.
“Every leader in our industry has brought their own strength and experience to their role and the more we can encourage others to do that the more cognitive diversity we are going to have.
“That kind of diversity (not just gender and background) is going to help us face the challenges we have ahead in the cotton industry.
“I strongly believe the greatest risk to any ag industry at the moment is ‘groupthink’.
“Cotton does it better than many, but we need to be acutely aware of the strength that kind of diversity brings.
“CRDC, Cotton Australia and Auscott really need to be applauded for the way they approach their investment in people right across the industry and the supply chain.
“I really enjoyed the course overall and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.”
Grab it with both hands
As the manager of the Riverina-based Southern Cotton farming operation, and president of the Southern Valleys Cotton Growers Association, John Durham is no stranger to the strategic organisation, decision-making and communication that comes with industry leadership.
Over the last 15 months however, through the ARLP, the scope of just what a leader’s responsibilities are have shifted and expanded for him.
“Prior to the ARLP, I would typically prefer to avoid confronting conversations and be reluctant to engage with those with a negative perspective of the cotton industry,” he said.
“On a personal level, I now have the confidence to share my story and to be proud of growing and supplying the best quality cotton fibre to the world.”
Having experienced the ARLP at the same time as his industry has borne its own challenges, is something John has appreciated.
“Firstly, the cotton industry is extremely inclusive and encouraging, which is how I came to apply for the program.
“ARLP Course 2 graduate and Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay suggested I consider it.
“I had the support of my industry, my employers and family behind me, and I knew I had to step-up and give it a go.”
As one of the youngest members of his ARLP cohort at age 34, the leader says he was never made to feel like he had less to offer.
“The power of being genuine and authentic is one of the biggest things I have learned from the whole experience,” he says.
From the “grounding” nature of the Kimberley session, unplugged from distractions, to the cultural barriers broken down throughout the session in Indonesia, the ARLP has added to John’s sense that emotional quotient or ‘EQ’ is a potent power to leverage as a leader.
“Generally, what sets a profitable farming business apart from a less profitable one is relatively simple: operational timeliness and productivity.
“But often what is overlooked is that people are an integral part of productivity. I certainly acknowledge that I have been focused so much on process and productivity that I have overlooked the people.
“Another thing that I have taken from the ARLP is the power of listening: it is critical to listen to people and understand what their needs are.”
Looking ahead, John says wherever his efforts are concentrated, he will continue to draw on authenticity and candour to communicate effectively.
“Times are continually changing in the agriculture sector – there’s a necessary drive for innovation across all the industries, which has a big flow-on to regional economies,” he says.
And if that process includes an opportunity for development like the ARLP, John urges those in agriculture to grab it with both hands.
“You’ll have the opportunity to meet and engage with some of the most inspirational and informed people, and you’ll be equipped to reach your goals. It’s a unique opportunity for personal reflection and growth.”