Developing leaders in rural, regional and remote locations

By Suzanne Balmer, CFO and Operations Director

Back in the late ‘70’s we moved from Sydney to Kooralbyn in South East Queensland. My Dad was involved in building the first Queensland golf resort there. I went to Beaudesert High School, and most of my classmates lived on farms. It was a new lifestyle for me, and I loved it. Mountain views, horse-riding, home grown food and hanging out on working farms became part of my life. I also saw my father for two more hours a day on account of the traffic (none) and his 5 minute walk to work!

The paradox was that it was difficult to stay. It was accepted that if you finished Year 12, you’d leave to go to the city. I was one of these kids. I went to uni in Brisbane – and never returned to the region. A few years ago I went to a school reunion at Beaudesert. Out of about 70 students there were probably about 10 who had stayed in the area.

Regional and country areas offer so much in terms of lifestyle and work-life balance, however, it’s very hard for young people to get opportunities, and hard to keep talent there. In terms of the larger organisations that have a regional presence: government agencies, education, banks, larger retailers etc., a regional life is often seen not as a permanent proposition, but more as a ‘tour of duty’ before people move on to something bigger.

My brother has been in Queensland Police for 27 years. He has loved his career, even though it has involved frequent moves to different regional areas, and therefore frequent upheaval for he and his family. His story reflects a common experience for individuals and organisations: a trade-off between commitment to the area, individual career development and organisational succession planning.

Perhaps one of the planning priorities for regional Australia is to enable people to develop their capabilities as well as commitment to a locality. The issue for young people is: ‘How do I develop myself in career terms, and still get to live in the rural or regional place that I love?’

Reaching rural, regional and remote leaders with Coachlive

A commissioned report on Leadership Programs for Rural, Remote and Regional Australia (classified as R3) evaluates some of the great programs that work to attract and retain high potential talent in R3 territory. These include the JCU-led Australian Rural Leadership Program and individual champions such as Kerry Anderson, who has a long affinity with Community Leadership Loddon Murray and is passionate about community leadership and entrepreneurship.

Many of the delivery models surveyed in the report rely on face-to-face as a primary modality, with an emphasis on project work. The main barriers to participation are generally time and cost. A third barrier can be a lack of clarity about learning pathways, for example: confusion about the level, the length, or the project requirements of the program.

At Executive Central, we’ve been redefining strategies to develop leadership at all levels of organisations in a cost and time effective way, with our Coachlive™ Program. Coachlive provides access to individualised executive level coaching to leaders in regional areas. We deliver quality coaching at all levels in the workplace by replicating the executive coaching process and using a high proportion of virtual delivery.

This model is a game changer when it comes to developing and retaining leadership talent in the bush, and rebooting some of those communities in the process. Using technology to deliver live coaching via video conference for leaders in R3 areas is a smart way to go. It ensures access to the highest quality leadership coaching from experienced experts who could be located anywhere in the world – without the challenges of cost and time.

There’s also a game-changing strategic payoff for organisations. Kerry Anderson notes the leadership opportunities in the bush. She also describes the particular character of rural leadership in entrepreneurship and community life – agile and decisive.

“The opportunities are much better in the bush, you can fast track careers into leadership roles.” – Kerry Anderson

I believe that these opportunities that Kerry sees for leaders in the bush can spill over into development in larger organisations (government agencies, banks, etc.) in the R3 environment. By finding a viable way to develop R3 talent, you are building a diverse workforce and creating a bankable resource of passionate leaders who have a deep first-hand knowledge of opportunities and challenges in regional Australia.

As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about rural, remote and regional Australia. I’d love to hear from you if you are living or working in the R3 space and are interested in the issues and solutions for developing, attracting and retaining talent in the bush.