Coaching and developing First Peoples to lead

By David Major, Thirriwirri Co-Founder and Director

One of the big challenges in my career was getting through the ‘identified role’ glass ceiling. When the opportunity came to step from an Aboriginal services role into a senior mainstream role, I wasn’t confident that I could compete. This was a hard step for me to take, as there just weren’t many accessible First Nations role models who I could go to for support.

But I stepped up and had a crack, and reached the position of Executive Director in Government. Along with my time in Government I have also spent more than ten years running my own consulting business across Australia.

Now with Thirriwirri Co-Founder and Director Jason Ardler, I am eager to ‘give back’ and use my experience to support other First Nations people on their leadership journey. One of the ways we are doing that is in partnership with Executive Central in our First Peoples Leading program.

Jason is also a Yuin man. He has held senior executive roles in the NSW public sector for the past 20 years, including 8 as Head of Aboriginal Affairs NSW. He also brings his experience of breaking through into senior leadership roles to this program, so First Nations communities can grow and benefit.

Thirriwirri is the Muktung (Maneroo) word for Ironbark. Ironbark is tough, textured and enduring, rooted deeply and firmly in Country and culture. It represents our commitment to working with tenacity and perseverance.

Thirriwirri and our partnership with Executive Central is about strengthening leadership capacity, supporting leaders with coaching and mentoring is a key to the future success of our First Nations communities across Australia. If Jason and I can play a small part in supporting our current and future leaders, we couldn’t ask for a better impact for Thirriwirri.

Our partnership developed through Jason’s relationship with Executive Central Director Glenn Ball. They worked closely together on leadership and coaching programs for Aboriginal leaders in government and non-profit sector roles and attained great results from this work, including 90% of more than 300 graduates moving to promoted roles.

Glenn is a proven leader in the field of executive coaching, and we are lucky to work with him and the Executive Central team.

Glenn says one of the biggest issues he sees in coaching First People is a lack of confidence, and that was certainly the case in my own experience. So, Glenn brings a focus on the skills of engagement and influence to this coaching, which is a great benefit to participants.

Some of the other unique challenges our mob face are:

  • being expected to maintain the trust and confidence of, and advocate for their community, while representing their organization’s;
  • and being promoted through their careers to a range of specialist First People service/program roles, without the opportunities to broaden into mainstream roles.

I have been asked how First Peoples Leading will be different from any other leadership coaching and development program. To me, ‘leadership is leadership’ and the majority of the content of First Peoples Leading — Executive Central’s exclusive tools, techniques and concepts for leading — will be the same as that delivered for mainstream coaching. What sets it apart is that it is framed in the context and experiences of First Peoples by the team and participants.

One of the major outcomes of First Peoples Leading for me is for it to contribute to a network of First Nations leaders who can support each other in their leadership journey and in breaking through glass ceilings.

Please contact me below if you’d like to chat.


First Peoples Leading is a leadership development and coaching program in the contexts of First Nations People. The team delivering this program include First Nations leaders who have extensive senior executive in government and consulting, and who wish to pass on this experience to others.