The Captain’s Pick – Where consensus and consultation go to die, but is that a bad thing?

Cpatains Pick

The concept of The Captain’s Pick (CP) has been thrown around a lot recently in the media, and this blog is going to be a quick look at what that actually means, and whether it’s a good idea as a leader to make one or not.

For the uninitiated, the Captain’s Pick (yet another sporting term stolen by politicians in a sports mad country: Shirtfronting, Down to the wire, Heavy hitter etc.) refers to a decision made, or to the selection of a candidate by a Party Leader without consultation with colleagues, the electorate or due political process (as appropriate). The most recent example of its use in politics has been Tony Abbot’s award of an Australian Knighthood to Prince Phillip – a man who is neither short of a few titles, or an Australian – without even mentioning it in passing to his cabinet, leading to ‘some’ dissenting voices.

With the exception of Dominic Knight literally everybody is giving the PM a hard time over it, and not just the ones you’d expect (Andrew Bolt and Rupert Murdoch both got involved). Of course, this isn’t the first time the CP has been thrown about by a sitting Prime Minister – Julia Gillard famously preferred Nova Peris over Trish Crossin in 2013 and got about as positive reaction as Tony has this time. When Kevin Rudd took over for the home stretch of the election campaign, he wasted no time in invoking the CP when choosing Peter Beattie for Forde.

Leaving aside the individual merits of either of the CP above because there are plenty of people debating them for us, is the concept of the CP such a bad one? Is it “an inherently weak Prime Minister’s way of trying to assert an authority that he no longer has” (Tim Dunlop), or indicative of a leader who “is prepared to kick arse all the way to the next election” (Gabrielle Chan)? Does it make a difference whether you are a Prime Minister, CEO or an actual sporting captain?

Is a Captain's Pick a sign of strength or weakness?
Is a Captain’s Pick a sign of strength or weakness?

On the one hand, you could argue that it’s leadership by position, rather than deed – by making the CP, you’re essentially saying “no-one is going to reject my decision because I’m the boss” – it’s about perceived strength. Or is it about weakness? Maybe it’s more a case of “I really want to do this, but I’m afraid that I’ll get shot down so I’m just going to do it without telling anyone”.

On the other hand, don’t we choose our leaders partly because we want them to make decisions? By electing someone as PM, playing under a captain or working for the boss aren’t we saying “I trust you do make the right choices”? Imagine if Michael Clarke had to consult with all his teammates before he changed the field positions?

I think that’s the point – Michael Clarke does have the authority to make and enforce decisions based solely on his own judgement because the decisions he makes have to be made quickly and in the midst of a match. He is genuinely a captain, and no matter how much you love cricket, his choices are unlikely to affect that many people in a significant way. Whereas not only do Tony Abbot’s choices have a rather wider impact, but presumably the PM wasn’t under any pressure to Knight Prince Phillip. It’s unlikely he walked into his office on Australia Day and suddenly realised he had to Knight someone, Phillip being the first person that came to mind (although it might seem like that’s exactly what happened). Abbot had the time to think, consult with colleagues, judge public opinion. He could still have made the same decision, but at least then he would have had some back up. As it is, his party and strongest supporters have openly criticised him – it could end up being the single most damaging decision of his term in office, but it wasn’t the decision itself that was so bad (stranger people than Prince Phillip have been given honours) it was the fact that Abbot immediately owned it, totally – he turned himself into a figure of ridicule.

The problem with unilateral decisions is that you’re the one who has to wear it if they go wrong, so you’ve either got to be pretty confident it won’t or desperate. Gillard’s selection of Nova Peris had some pretty clear potential upsides electorally and so it can be argued that the pick was a risk worth taking. The main issue I have with Tony Abbot’s pick is that I can’t imagine what he thought was the best case scenario – there was never likely to be celebrations in the street at further recognition of an old man who has spent his life doing good things because his wife’s vast wealth means he can, so at best Abbot could have expected a national disinterested shrug.

Always weigh up the upsides and downsides of your CP!
Always weigh up the upsides and downsides of your CP!

A business leader who makes a CP in giving a high-ranking job to a friend or family member instead of going through a recruitment process generally does it in the reasonable expectation that they have the skills necessary to do the job well. If it turns out they don’t, the leader is probably going to lose their job. The football coach who consistently selects his son or daughter in the team has to be pretty confident that they are better than other players they could have chosen. If not, they’re going to lose the respect of the team and probably, ultimately, their job as a result when they turn against him. Both types of CP are justifiable on the assumption that they will bring about a positive result, and if not, the ‘Captain’ takes the hit (one more sporting idiom for you).

By making a Captain’s Pick that is so clearly full of downside Abbot has to be prepared to take the consequences. This is not the biggest or worst decision he has ever made, in fact it wasn’t a decision he particularly needed to make at all but it could prove the most costly – when even your most rabid supporters start to doubt (in private and in public) your judgement it’s difficult to get it back. A leader cannot lead if no-one is following, so what do you do if your Captain’s Pick turns out to be the wrong one?

What do you think about Captain’s Picks?

As a leader, have you ever made a decision you later regretted? What were the consequences, and how did you resolve the situation?

– Luke’s%20pick.pdf


Why Volunteer? Building Networks

For National Student Volunteer Week (NSVW) 2014, we’ll be publishing a series of posts answering that perennial question – why should I volunteer?

Today’s blog is all about that intangible but essential activity – Networking. Typically seen as an exercise in corporate career-ladder climbing, networking is often treated with suspicion amongst those with more altruistic objectives but the value of building a network through, or for volunteering is huge.

Every state in Australia has a state-wide Volunteer ‘Hub’ – Volunteering Queensland/Victoria/Tasmania etc. bring together news, opportunities, research and promotional materials for volunteers and volunteer organisations, ensuring the word gets spread as far as possible. Queensland have even gone that step further in building a nationwide network through organising National Student Volunteer Week, which of course we are celebrating this week. Even on a more local level, most towns will have a peak body for volunteering – in Ballarat, United Way run the volunteer role search engine, as well as supporting local organisations with marketing their roles, and running the volunteer managers network (amongst many other things). Through these ‘Hubs’, you as an an individual can also benefit from this extended network – volunteering with one organisation opens doors to many other opportunities when organisations work together.

On a personal level, many of the people you meet whilst volunteering will be invaluable additions to your personal and professional networks. Many volunteer organisations tend to be fairly small-scale, and non-hierarchical – you may be working on a daily basis with senior managers in the organisation. Often, CEOs, CFOs etc of charities have a lot of previous experience in larger, corporate settings – not only can you learn form their expertise, but again, they can open doors to new opportunities, both within volunteering and thinking about your career. The people who work for volunteer organisations by their nature tend to be willing to help other people, and so in your personal life as well your volunteer network can help you get things done. Of course, networking is not all about taking, and so make sure that you give a little as well – if you’re volunteering with someone who may need a hand with something, some information or a key contact that you have – do it!

Vol Expo SMFor NSVW, we’re running a couple of events which can help volunteers build their networks. On Monday, we hosted our annual Volunteer Expo in Ballarat and Gippsland, as well as an online version. Over 40 organisations took part in the ‘physical’ Expos, and several more in the ‘Virtual’ one, representing a huge range of different sectors including sports, politics, welfare and engineering. Students were encouraged to visit at least 6 stalls and find out what they had to offer, so getting a broad representation of what is available. On Wednesday, we have a talk specifically for Visual Arts students about how they can use their artistic powers to help the community, and join local artist networks.

Have you got a personal story of how you improved your network through volunteering? Let us know!

– Luke

Why volunteer? Giving Back

For National Student Volunteer Week (NSVW) 2014, we’ll be publishing a series of posts answering that perennial question – why should I volunteer? Part of my job is to persuade students that volunteering is great, and so I need to be able to do more than just mumble something about helping other people.

dollarThat said, my first and most important reason for volunteering is to give back in some way – volunteering can’t by definition be a purely selfish act as it automatically makes life better for other people. Someone cleverer than me has worked out that volunteering is worth around $200bn annually to the Australian economy – that’s what our volunteers are worth in the wages we don’t pay them, the things we don’t need to do because of them (planting trees, reading to kids etc), the money they pay in transport, food, clothing etc when volunteering and the skills they learn which can be transferred to their paid work, amongst other things. For the record, that’s more than even the mining industry contributes. (Pro Bono, 2014).

FedUniIn 2013 FedUni (or University of Ballarat as it was then) students contributed over 3119 volunteer hours – a contribution worth over $75,000, which is pretty incredible – we’re aiming for over 4000 hours this year – who said students don’t contribute to society? Ours are amazing. (Volunteering Australia, 2012)

Pop Upsocial mediaThis NSVW, we’ll be doing a number of things to help students give back – we’re running 5 Pop-Up Op Shops during the week – students and staff have been donating clothes, accessories and bric-a-brac for the past month or so, and we’ll be selling it all off in exchange for gold coin donations. Not only will all money will be split between the Ballarat Soup Bus (, Uniting Care ( and the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund (, but we’ll be preventing several kilograms of unwanted ‘stuff’ from ending up in landfill. Instead, it will be ‘recycled’ by someone else, and anything left at the end of the week will be donated to local Op Shops, so nothing is wasted.

We’re also holding a Campus Clean-up at Mt Helen on Friday afternoon – we’ll be clearing up litter, branches and anything else we come across all over campus and the surrounding walking track. Thanks to the International Student Committee and Dale, our Sustainability Officer for helping make this happen. Anyone interested in joining us just needs to meet at the Hub at 1pm – we’ll provide gloves and a cuppa, but wrap up warm!

In the next few days we’ll be looking at some other reasons to volunteer, and what we’re doing during the week to help it happen, so please keep checking back:
Building Networks
Boosting Skills
Broadening Horizons

– Luke


FedUni Student Leadership Conference Announcement & Call for Submissions.

Leadership_handWe are delighted to announce the inaugural FedUni Student Leadership Conference – 9th and 10th October 2014, and welcome submissions from potential facilitators.

Conference theme:
“Place, Passion and Participation – Leadership in regional contexts”.

This conference will bring together existing and aspiring student leaders from across all Federation University campuses, including partner providers and online students. The conference aims not only to spark the passion for leadership of all kinds amongst the next generation of leaders, but also to promote the leadership opportunities available in regional settings.

We want students to see themselves as inspirational leaders of, and advocates for, their local regions and to consider the impact they could make by remaining locally after graduation as a genuine alternative to moving to larger cities.

We are currently inviting proposals from a range of disciplines to facilitate a session at the conference which fit within the conference theme, above. All submissions must define their intended objectives and outcomes/impacts.
We welcome submissions from FedUni staff and students, as well as facilitators from outside the University. Please head to for the submission guidelines.

What the Oxfam Trailwalker taught me about Leadership

PP_A5_SalePaper_Easter11Template_02Last weekend, I completed the Oxfam Trailwalker ( in Melbourne with 3 mates – we walked 100kms from Wheeler’s Hill to Wesburn through the Dandenong Ranges in 27 hours 37 minutes and raised $1,500 for Oxfam thanks to the generosity of friends, family and colleagues. My boss told me I should write about the experience, so here goes – The purpose of this blog is not to brag about it, but to think about what I learnt/had confirmed to me about Leadership by doing it.

You can only go as fast as your team’s capacityJerusalem-Marathon-2012_front-runners

We watched several teams split up throughout the event – team members ploughing on by themselves, followed half an hour later by their team mates. Our team also briefly broke into two at times, as we had planned that during the uphill sections, everyone should walk at their own pace, then reconvene at the top. At each Checkpoint (every 10-15kms) teams had to check in and out as a 4, so there was really no point in allowing huge gaps to open up – you were as well off all walking together as not. In organisations, people need to have the chance to work at their own pace, but there will be some milestones that can’t be passed alone, so make sure you wait, and check up on someone else who might need a hand.

PrintLeadership and Management are not the same, but both are crucial

As completing the walk was my idea in the first place, it fell on me to do all the organising – registration, training, fundraising, preparation, transport and accommodation all fell on me to coordinate. I had the initial ‘inspiration’, and was able to build my team, but I still had to do the hard yards of paperwork and logistics so that we could achieve our goals – it wasn’t fun, but it was essential.

There’s no substitute for preparation

Oxfam_NZ_main_picTo be completely honest we didn’t train enough for the event. We did a team training walk most weekends, but then it was up to us as individuals to do the rest through the week. We didn’t. We didn’t visit the actual event trail enough, and we didn’t spend enough time walking in the gear we would be using for the real thing, and the result was pain (mental and physical). In leadership (and most things) we get better the more we are used to a situation – you learn what works and what doesn’t, you try things out and make mistakes and you can visualise the end goal. If you don’t know what the next obstacle looks like, how can you know how to overcome it?

long_term_success_cardThe big picture is important, but so are short-term goals

Walking 100kms is hard; 10kms is a lot easier. Raising sales by 50% over the year is hard; selling 50 additional units in a month is easier. Winning the Grand Final is hard; investing in your playing and coaching groups and gaining one place per year is easier. Break your goals into smaller, time-limited chunks and reward yourself and your team every time you complete one.

People are different

Some people are ruthlessly goal-driven, others are only interested in other people, and of course therebe different are many who sit somewhere in between. I got frustrated by one of my teammates as he constantly slowed down to chat to other teams as we passed them, whereas I was more interested in getting to the next checkpoint. It took me a while to realise that this was one of his personal motivations for doing the event in the first place – the chance to spend time with new people – rather than purely a way to slow us down. Once I did, I was a lot more accepting of it and dare I say it, actually started talking to other teams myself! Everyone in your teams will have a different reason for being there, and a different way of working. You can’t enforce your ideals on others, so embrace it and join their side of the fence for a while – it might be out of your comfort zone, but it will foster greater understanding, and if you ever want them to do something your way, they will probably give it a go.

commitment21If people are committed to the goal, they will happily suffer for it

If you can get your team on board with your goal they will move the earth to achieve it. One of our team members developed some pretty bad blisters on his feet early on and was suffering, but he walked through the pain. At 70kms all his blisters burst at once and he could barely walk, but he kept going. It may have slowed us down slightly but we still achieved our goal purely down to that guy’s determination – I have never seen anyone pull through like that for so long (ever walked for 11 hours with burst blisters?) and I am in awe of him.

Sometimes downhill is the hardest part2669564-3_Steep_downhill_ledge_before_Chewy_Hill

The section of the trail between 43 and 93 kms was nearly all downhill or flat, so we and all our friends thought “Great, this is the chance to recuperate a bit between some pretty severe hills”. It turns out that was the worst 50kms of my life. Not only did it ruin us physically, as it uses completely different muscles (and guess what? we didn’t really train for the downhill), but the mental effect of a long, unchanging landscape for hours when you are starting to feel the pain anyway, brought us pretty close to the brink. Whatever your leadership situation do not ignore the “easy” bits, as they will be the ones that jump up and bite!

What challenges have you overcome and what did they teach you?

– Luke


After LeadOn: Lead on!

LeadOnOn Friday, LeadOn Ballarat announced the sad news that they are closing down at the end of the year.

LeadOn have worked tirelessly for 8 years to engage the young people of Ballarat in community-based projects, and skills development. Amongst others, they have run the L2P program, enabling young people to gain Lead-On-Logo-NEW-2008-357x250hours of supervised driving for free and several public arts projects, which not only have breathed new life into neglected spaces, but have given budding street artists a legal outlet for their creativity. They have also run film projects, built websites for community groups and developed a youth-led magazine, and much more.

The closure of LeadOn could leave a bit of a hole in youth provision in the Ballarat area. So what other organisations provide opportunities for young people to engage with their community and develop leadership skills?

Byou_LogoBYOU: Ballarat Youth, run by the City of Ballarat, has a vision “…for young people in Ballarat to be actively engaged, valued and respected citizens, realising their potential”. They run a variety of programs, including the Youth Council, Zaque (a social support group for Ballarat’s GLBTIQ youth, planning and coordinating community awareness activities) and the Urban Diversity Choir. Head to to see how you can get involved.

hllen logoHLLEN: Highlands Local Learning and Employment Network,
works with young people, employer, training providers and community groups to provide a range of learning opportunities for young people, aiding transition between school and the workplace. For more info, go to:

The YMCA is a great opportunity to develop leadership skills, whether through their dedicated Leadership Workshops, or through volunteering to run their after school or holiday activities.




Centre for Multicultural Youth provides services and advocacy for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. They connect with vulnerable young people, offering mentoring, sports and recreation activities and access to other local services, in order to foster better community integration.

These are just some of the awesome youth-focused community groups that we are privileged to have in Ballarat. They are always looking for motivated individuals to help them out, so get in touch! If you would like to suggest other similar groups that are not on this list, please post some details in the comments section, including a weblink!

– Luke

What a difference student leaders can make!

2013 Student Senate Members at the Leadership Awards
2013 Student Senate Members at the Leadership Awards

This week, we had our final Student Senate meeting of 2013, which provides us with a great opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved by our student leaders, and where we’re headed next.

Formed in 2012, the Student Senate is a representative body which consults with, and advocates on behalf of all of our students. They have a key role in consultations over Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) spending, as well as having representation on a variety of University committees such as Academic Board.

This year there have been 19 members, representing specific groups of students by campus, community, school, Higher Ed/TAFE etc. They all work tirelessly to improve the student experience for all students, and have made a huge impact, holding 8 student fora on different campuses.

The key achievements of the Senate in 2013 include:

Visual Arts Rep, Jasmine Barker
Visual Arts Rep, Jasmine Barker

Representing the student voice during the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) ban on publishing results
Often the groups most affected by decisions have the least representation, both in local negotiations and in the wider world, so it speaks volumes for the Senate as a consultative body that they were able to talk to both the NTEU and Senior University staff from the students’ point of view.

Aiding the transition to Federation University
The Senate have been an active voice during the proposals to merge with Monash Gippsland Campus, and as well as building relationships with Monash Gippsland’s student directors to help smooth the transition. They have visited the Gippsland campus, presented to Monash staff, and hosted a visit from the Monash University Gippsland Student Union (MUGSU) to Ballarat in September.

Senate members in action at the Industry Skills Centre
Senate members in action at SMB Campus

Consulting on the use of SSAF funding
Significant investment has been made to the facilities on all campuses as a result of Senate consultations, including updating of kitchenettes, providing ceiling fans and cleaning equipment for the movement studios at Camp Street and installing student lockers at 3 locations across the Mt Helen campus.

Creating Portfolios for more focused student advocacy
Senate members are now part of one of the new portfolios, which have already made a significant impact: Facilities & ICT, Communications, Academic and Student Connect.

Allanah Morel, Sustainability Committee Rep
Allanah Morel, Sustainability Committee Rep

And more!
The Senate have raised awareness of mental health issues by helping organise the Blue Tie Ball, revamped the TAFE orientation process and Clubs manual, and even managed to get their own office built!

So what’s on the horizon for next year?

More student engagement: Both with the Senate and with the student experience in general – getting students and staff talking, collaborating and shaping the University.

New Roles: The Senate is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of our student body, and their expanding role due to the transition to FedUni offers a great opportunity to do just that. Several new senate positions have been identified as a priority – Vice-chair, a Gippsland Campus Rep, a Distance Education Rep and a Senior Student Rep from our Federation College. A member of MUGSU will also be invited to each meeting.

Mt Helen TAFE Rep, Alex Devin
Mt Helen TAFE Rep, Alex Devin

Security and lighting: Across all campuses, lighting is a key issue for the safety of both students and staff – the Senate propose funding be used for a complete audit and upgrade of lighting at FedUni.

Communication: At FedUni we want to talk more. We want to hear from students, and we recognise that we could be better at communicating to students what’s going on around campus. The Senate proposes a team of student Communication Champions as a role within the Leadership Program. These students would help staff get the word out about events, activities and the services and support that their SSAF provides.

Performing Arts Rep, Aubrey Flood
Performing Arts Rep, Aubrey Flood

That’s just for starters – elections will be held in March, so the new Senate members will no doubt be brimming with ideas on how to make FedUni an amazing place to study.

For more information about the student senate, please contact Naomi Biggs:, or check out the Student Senate Facebook Page.

– Luke