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All Together Now: Lessons on Leadership- Sophie Allen

What makes a good leader?

I’ve been asking myself this question recently, in conversation with members of the 180 Degrees Consulting team. From the University of Melbourne branch up to the Global Leadership Team, I’ve listened to numerous individuals describe how they contribute to the organisation in different ways. Coming out of all of our conversations was a common thread: the mindset of ‘we’, not ‘me’.


I began by talking to Krystal Ha. Having joined 180DC last year as a fresh-faced consultant, she’s stayed on to become the youngest Team Leader in the cohort. Yet, she hadn’t always planned on applying for her current position. Despite having a very positive experience as a consultant, Krystal said it wasn’t until her own Team Leader recommended applying for the role that she decided to do so. Krystal says the jump from Consultant to Team Leader has been “significant, but rewarding.” Now, she has co-lead a project with JCI Australia, acting as the primary liaison between the project team, the client and the 180DC Executive Committee, and was responsible for the overall strategic direction of the project. With the support of people who cared about her professional development, Krystal rose to the challenge, achieving more than she first set out to do.


Having gained a sense of team dynamics, I met with this year’s Consulting Director, Calum McConville, to gain a perspective on the branch as a whole. Like Krystal, he didn’t enter his current role straight away but started out with 180DC as a Team Leader. Calum said what drew him to join the Executive Committee was the energy and creativity he discovered in such a collaborative environment, wanting to be even more involved. On one hand, his new role involves guiding all the teams and helping ensure the success of their projects. At the same time, endeavouring to help consultants have a positive experience themselves. To quote Calum, “180DC is not just a space for students to gain consulting expertise, but a chance for them to pursue their own development goals.”


From what I could tell so far, synthesising Krystal’s exposure to mentoring with Calum’s vision for the branch, on-the-ground experiences seemed to corroborate with the aims of the leadership team. Looking to empower your employees is a win-win, helping get the best out of them. This was confirmed by Whitney Zhao, former Vice President of the University of Melbourne branch, and this year’s Director of Global Operations. She began life at 180DC as a consultant, where she says it was all about making the client happy. Having enjoyed the experience, her leadership role progressed naturally, now overseeing multiple 180DC branches across Australia. In looking to better the organisation and provide a gold class experience for clients, she says it’s important to first take care of team members’ wellbeing. “By focussing on making our consultants happy,” she says, “we are ensuring that 180DC is best able to deliver on projects and help non-profits achieve their goals.”


It’s become clear to me that you can establish formal mentorship structures, but ultimately, it’s up to those in leadership positions to actively reinvest their acumen. It certainly comes with desirable results for the organisation. Namely, improved retention of members wanting to ‘pay it back’ and build upon this culture themselves. Of the individuals cited here, not one spoke of having plans at the outset to rise up the ranks. Rather, they wanted to ensure the next cohort had the same positive experience they had. Consequently, they upskilled themselves and contributed more to 180DC as a whole. I’d say it doesn’t solely come down to close partnerships between mentors and mentees, but a carrying over of this team mindset to the whole organisation.


Talking to Celine Hua-Ching, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of 180 Degrees Consulting on the Global Leadership Team, I gained insight into how 180DC wants to take this mindset further. Celine touched on plans to begin the process of journey mapping for the organisation. This involves quantitative research amongst all the international branches, of which there are over 150, spanning Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. By starting with internal interviews at the consultant and client level, Celine says they hope to gain a better picture of end-to-end experiences within 180DC. She states that putting yourself in the shoes of your organisation, understanding what has or hasn’t worked thus far, will allow you to enhance user experience and improve future experience design. From there, she hopes to expand these feedback mechanisms to the Global Leadership Team and perhaps even partners.


180DC is still a relatively young organisation. It has been 13 years since its inception, but considering that every one volunteers part-time, it likely measures even younger. I take it as a positive sign going forward that as the organisation grows, lessons on inclusive leadership are being kept in mind. It can be a dog eat dog world out there - Celine reiterating my own struggles with society’s expectations to continually improve, or be deemed a failure. But she also reminded me that if there’s one thing she’s learnt, it’s to not take on too much and to reach out if feeling overwhelmed. It’s an important note for organisations and leaders alike. Easy as it is to get caught up in progress, to always take a step back and think: how are we going? Are we growing sustainably? And, what kind of a culture are we breeding?


The leaders I spoke to have all played a part in generating a positive culture at 180DC. They have benefitted from strong mentorship, and in turn, offered guidance and support when in a position to do so. From what I can tell, standards on behaviour have been established from the top-down - leaders acting as an example for how the rest of the team can, and should, behave. In doing so, this attracts other like-minded people wanting to be innovative, collaborative, and supportive. In striving to be successful, perhaps we would all do better to think first of ‘we’, not just, ‘me’.


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