Media briefing

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Sydney Leadership 2011 – Challenge yourself. Change your world.
Social Leadership Australia (SLA) – Real leadership. Real progress.

  • A not-for-profit leadership development consultancy established by Australia’s first charity, The Benevolent Society in 1999 to develop leaders across all sectors with the skills, motivation and connections to create lasting, positive social change for all Australians.

  • The only leadership development consultancy in Australia to employ the Adaptive Leadership model developed by Professor Ron Heifetz and his colleagues at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government at the core of all its programs (see ‘Adaptive Leadership’). SLA has been working almost exclusively with this model since 2002.

  • SLA takes the Adaptive Leadership model to a new level by focusing it on making progress for all society and teaching its program in the ‘real world’, not in a classroom. Participants are taken into remote Indigenous and rural communities, prisons, detention centres, housing commission estate, aged care facilities, schools and other minority communities to develop their leadership skills in complex and challenging environments.

  • SLA started with the Sydney Leadership program (for 30 people) in 1999. It now creates and delivers a range of open and customised leadership development programs for individuals and organisations from all sectors (including the new sister program to Sydney Leadership, Queensland Leadership, which commenced its second year this month).

  • Recent and current clients include:

    • Australian Institute of Police Management (delivering leadership programs for Assistant Commissioner from across the country)

    • National Australia Bank (close to 500 senior leaders at NAB have done an SLA delivered program in the last three and half years)

    • The NSW Departments of Health, Community Services and Corrective Services

    • The Australian Human Rights Commission

    • The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)

  • SLA also runs ‘issues-based’ programs such as the two-year Headland program for emerging Indigenous leaders (made possible with philanthropic support) and, in a partnership with Desert Knowledge Australia, the inter-cultural Alice Springs Desert Leadership program. A gender and leadership program is also in development.

  • In 2009 alone, over 500 leaders from Government bodies, Top 500 companies and NGOs participated in an SLA program, with programs taught in NSW, QLD, VIC and NT.

  • SLA program directors are all highly credentialed, skilled and experienced facilitators. Key staff in Sydney:

    • Robbie Macpherson, Head

    • Liz Skelton, Senior Manager, Programs

    • Geoff Aigner, Senior Manager, Development

    • Terri Soller, Sydney Leadership Program Manager

The Benevolent Society

Established in New South Wales in 1813 and recently branching into Queensland, The Benevolent Society is Australia’s first charity. It has a strong track record as an innovator and social pioneer and its purpose is to create caring and inclusive communities and a just society.

Sydney Leadership

  • Social Leadership Australia’s flagship leadership development program, established in 1999 by The Benevolent Society as part of a vision to create new leadership to make progress on Australia’s toughest issues.

  • The vision for the program is to build a network of leaders (and emerging leaders) with the skills, wisdom and bravery they need to activate deep change in themselves, in their organisations and in the world.

  • There are now nearly 400 Sydney Leadership Alumni.

  • Each year Sydney Leadership brings together a cohort of up to 30 people from across the business, government and not-for-profit sectors to work together to learn what it means to exercise real leadership – leadership that can breakthrough and deliver real progress on seemingly intransigent problems.

  • Working cross-sectorally is key to the program – because no single sector can take full responsibility for the change we want to see in the world.

  • The program is targeted at both existing senior leaders and emerging leadership talent.

  • Entry is by application and selection is competitive, based on a challenging interview.

  • Sydney Leadership is an award-winning program that offers a world-class leadership skills development experience using (a) the Adaptive Leadership model developed by Ron Heifetz and his colleagues at Harvard (see ‘Adaptive Leadership’) and (b) robust community engagement.

  • Graduates do not receive a Degree or Diploma. Sydney Leadership is not an off-the-shelf ‘course’ in which there are any ‘correct answers’. It is an intensive, experiential learning program that develops personal awareness, high level, practical leadership skills and solid cross-sector networks.

  • Sydney Leadership brings people face to face with a range of social issues, offering a true 360° view of the world that challenges prejudices and delivers insights into the true complexity of entrenched social issues – and the difficulty of achieving real leadership to solve tough problems.



One year (starts March 2011, graduation November 2011)

Information sessions


7.30am Tuesday 28th September (CBD)
6.30pm Monday 18th October (Paddington)

Applications close


12 November 2010

Number of places


Up to 30 - spread across corporate, government and community sectors

Selection process


Competitive, two staged process:

(i) application including statements of support

(ii) challenging interview.

Program costs


$16,900 + GST (including $900 personal contribution)

Some scholarships available for not-for-profit sector participants.

Fee is all-inclusive and covers all accommodation, travel, meals and materials for the year.
Sydney Leadership is run on a not-for-profit basis and the fee represents cost-recovery.



Some scholarships available for not-for-profit sector participants.



TBC (2010 sponsors include Johnson & Johnson Medical, City of Sydney

NSW Department of Community Services, AMP Foundation, NAB, Vivente Australia, Sydney Leadership Alumni and Allen Harroothunian.)

What happens on Sydney Leadership

  • The program includes a mix of:

    • retreats

    • ‘program days’ (including site visits and discussions)

    • ‘hands-on’ work in groups (working with selected issues)

    • study tours (looking at ‘whole of community’ issues)

    • workshops

    • guest speakers discuss their leadership challenges

    • readings

    • directed self-reflection

    • one-on-one coaching throughout the year.

  • No objective ‘case-studies’ of leadership challenges – group itself is used as a ‘case-in-point’.

  • Program exposes people to a range of key social issues in areas such as Indigenous inequality, education, cultural diversity, the environment, poverty, mental health, homelessness, youth-at-risk and migrants and refugees.

  • Each program is different and elements are customised as the year goes on in response to the group’s learning and issues.

Evidence of the benefits and impact

  • A prize-winning, tried-and-true program currently in its 12th year (2011 will be the 13th year of the program).

  • Very strong, positive feedback attests to the quality and impact of Sydney Leadership (see ‘Testimonials’).

  • Participants report significant improvements in their leadership skills, motivation and drive, relationship-building and partnering skills.

  • A major benefit is the connection with a valuable new network of like-minded, skilled and resourceful individuals – both amongst each year’s group, and across the entire Social Leadership Australia alumni (now numbering nearly 400).

  • Over 94% of graduates report significant changes they have made on a personal, organisational and a community level as a direct result of their involvement in the program.

  • Large ‘story bank’ of anecdotal evidence telling of the power of Sydney Leadership to create lasting positive impacts, personally, professionally and in the community (see ‘Alumni’).

  • Many Alumni have gone on to develop new initiatives both in a volunteer capacity and/or within their workplaces as a result of their learning in the Sydney Leadership program.

Who is this for?

  • Sydney Leadership is ideally suited to senior decision makers such as CEOs and senior managers, but it is also targeted at emerging leaders with the talent and determination to make a difference either in their organisation or in the community.

  • This is very much a program for people working in business and government and is ideal for anyone who is:

    • leading change – particularly change requiring cultural shifts or changes to values and behavioural norms

    • managing projects with diverse stakeholders or partners / cross-organisational projects

    • working in areas with social or environmental impacts – when the biggest issues they face are ‘beyond their four walls.’

  • Selection criteria include: vision, intellectual rigor, strong personal values, a sphere of influence and a commitment to give something back to the community.

A powerful alternative to tertiary education for people in leadership roles

  • Sydney Leadership delivers a sophisticated set of leadership skills to help drive change and uncover new solutions to complex challenging problems wherever they occur.

  • The program offers much deeper learning that a theoretical course taught in a classroom. (See ‘Testimonials’)

  • Because of its focus on the complexity of social problems and its experiential approach to learning, Sydney Leadership offers powerful learning outcomes that are sustainable and applicable to any leader managing change, complexity, corporate social responsibility, community engagement, projects with diverse stakeholders and/or social and/or environmental impacts.

  • The program has a strong focus on the ‘why’ of leadership, as well as on the ‘how’, and fosters leaders with a strong sense of purpose and connection with their values; leaders with high self-awareness and well developed interpersonal skills – in other words, the ability to inspire, teach and mobilise others – and the resilience to survive the rigors of leading change (which nearly always involves pain/loss and resistance.)

Adaptive Leadership

  • Adaptive leadership is a radical new approach to leadership developed by Ronald Heifetz and his colleagues at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. First reported in a landmark article, ‘The Work of Leadership’ in the Harvard Business Review in 1997, Adaptive Leadership subverts the dominant leadership paradigm.
    From the introduction to the 2001 re-print of ‘The Work of Leadership’:

“Sometimes an article comes along and turns the conventional thinking on a subject not upside down but inside out…. Not only do the authors introduce the breakthrough concept of adaptive change – the sort of change that occurs when people and organizations are forced to adjust to a radically altered environment – they challenge the traditional understanding of the leader-follower relationship.

“Leaders are shepherds, goes the conventional thinking, protecting their flock from harsh surroundings. Not so, say the authors. Leaders who truly care for their followers expose them to the painful reality of their condition and demand that they fashion a response.”

  • Adaptive leadership takes a sophisticated view that overcomes many of the contradictions or failures of the more traditional, ‘heroic’ leader paradigm. It frames leadership as an activity rather than as a position. It emphasises progress over power, presence over charisma, group learning over ready answers. The work of leadership shifts from being about pushing through a particular agenda to engaging and mobilising a group to face their reality, even when this may be complex, uncertain, overwhelming, or unpalatable.

  • An Adaptive Leadership approach has the potential to deliver meaningful change on entrenched, difficult problems, for which there is no existing or predictable solution.

  • Social Leadership Australia’s use of adaptive leadership, together with its focus on creating positive change for all of society, is behind its tagline, ‘Real leadership. Real progress.’

Sydney Leadership Alumni

The Sydney Leadership Alumni include representatives from a diversity of organisations from Top 200 Companies to small community-based not-for-profits and a range of Local, State and Federal Government Departments (see over).

Alumni stories

Sydney Leadership Alumni go on to make change in the personal, community and organisational lives in diverse ways. Some have initiated new projects with social and environmental impacts, some have simply worked to make progressive change within their organisations. For example:

  • Charles Prouse, CEO of the National Aboriginal Sporting Change Academy, (2009 graduate), who was in the news last week for his work bringing Aboriginal children from desert communities to the city to expand their thinking about the possibilities for their future.

  • Alice Cahill, Manager of Business Partnerships for the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, who developed an entire CSR program for Zurich Financial Services following her graduation from Sydney Leadership in 2003.

  • Clark Thompson, Regional Executive, ANZ Commercial & Agribusiness Central Queensland, who attributes his career progress since his graduation in 2007 to an evolved leadership style that places increased value on partnerships and collaboration for success and long-term sustainability.

  • John Corrigan, Founder & Principal, Group 8 Education, who made a ten year commitment to the transformation of Australia’s education system during Sydney Leadership in 2001, and has since worked with 130+ schools in Australia and the UK to develop a new approach to learning based on the latest neuroscience research.

  • Cary Badcoe, CEO, Australian Business & Community Network, who established a long-running, impactful business mentoring program for underprivileged schools as a result of connections made through Sydney Leadership in 2004.

  • Associate Professor Sarah Maddison, Research Director of the Indigenous Policy & Dialogue Research Centre at UNSW, (2009 graduate), author of Black Politics and Silencing Dissent, who is writing a new book about the challenge of reconciliation using Social Leadership Australia’s adaptive leadership framework.

  • Tim Hardy, Head of Philanthropy, NAB Private Banking, who has used his Sydney Leadership learning (in 2000) to guide his work as an advisor on impactful investing in charitable causes and foundations.

  • Lisa Ryan, Manager of the Harm Minimisation Unit, NSW Health, who was inspired by Sydney Leadership to commission an Indigenous theatre company to tour Aboriginal communities to raise awareness of Hepatitis C – an innovative initiative that created greater impact on access to testing and treatment than any other project in the previous decade.

  • Gavin Fox-Smith, General Manager of Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson), who credits Sydney Leadership with developing his skills in dealing with personal and organisational change – skills that were then recognised by employer sending him to head up a subsidiary company (Ethicon) to drive culture change and turn the business around.

  • Merle Conyer, Training Officer at Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), who was so impacted by her time at Sydney Leadership that she moved from her job as the Knowledge Director in a national law firm and to a role in the not-for-profit sector managing health and settlement services for refugees.

  • Lee Downes, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Security and Investigations, NSW Corrective Services, who, after doing Sydney Leadership, designed and drove the development of an innovative new women’s prison complex that fosters independence and self-responsibility in the inmates to enable them to return to the community. She also established a program at Emu Plains prison that allows inmates’ children to live with them.

  • Dom Grenot, Public Housing Liaison Officer at the City of Sydney, who undertook work at the inner-city Northcott housing estate (dubbed Housing Estate Hell by the media!) and with a group of Sydney Leadership alumni established a thriving community centre, transforming living conditions for the 1000 residents at the estate.

Available for interview

Other Alumni available to talk to the media include:

  • David Walsh, State Director (NSW), Department of Immigration & Citizenship (2002 graduate)

  • Simon Sheik, National Director, GetUp! Action for Australia (2009 graduate)

  • Sam Weiss, Chair, Altium Ltd; Deputy Chair, GLG Corp Ltd; Non-Executive Director OrotonGroup Ltd, Brevill Group Ltd, IPGA Limited, Open Universities Australia and the Sydney Festival (2002 graduate)

  • Doug Taylor, CEO, United Way Sydney (2004 graduate)

  • Sharon Ryan, Organisational Change & Communications Lead, BHP Billiton, Energy Coal (2009 graduate)

  • Christopher Zinn, Director of Campaigns, Choice (2009 graduate)

  • Merle Conyer, Training Officer, NSW Service for the Treatment & Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and former Knowledge Director at Blake, Dawson Waldron (2002 graduate)

  • Deborah Burt, Director of People, Parsons Brinckerhoff (2007 graduate)

  • Lee Downes, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Security Investigations, Corrections NSW (2007 graduate)

  • Jono McCauley, Director, Creative Strategy, Eleven Communications (2007 graduate)

  • Gavin Fox-Smith, General Manager, Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson Medical) (2007 graduate)

Social Leadership Australia
Key SLA staff involved in delivering programs, including Sydney Leadership, are:

More information / Media Contact

Rachael Vincent, Communications Manager, Social Leadership Australia

The Benevolent Society, 188 Oxford Street, Paddington
Phone: (02) 9339 9318

Mobile: 0413 99 3316

Testimonials from graduates of Social Leadership Australia programs

  • “This was undoubtedly one of the greatest experiences of my life – challenging, inspiring, thought- provoking and enjoyable. Unlike many MBAs or other programs, this program really ‘stays’ with you. It’s truly in a class of its own.”
    Karen Heck, MBA, BComm, Executive Director, The Heck Group (Qld). Sydney Leadership 2004

  • “The most rewarding thing for me about Sydney leadership was having twenty years experience in change completely blown away. The program really pushed me to the edge of my competence and challenged me to listen and learn in completely unexpected ways. If you are serious about leadership and community then Sydney Leadership is a ‘must do’ in your lifetime.”
    Sharon Ryan, Organisational Change and Communications Lead, BHP Billiton, Energy Coal. Sydney Leadership 2009.

  • “This was without a doubt the best post-graduate program that I’ve ever attended. I got enormous value out of my MBA but this was much deeper learning.”
    Rod Douglas, MBA, CEO SuccesSystems; National Vice-President, Greening Australia. Queensland Leadership 2009-2010.

  • “Extraordinary … the most challenging and most valuable development experience I’ve had in my career, because it was so based in experience.”
    Simon Terry, General Manager, NAB. Accelerate 2007.

  • “Sydney Leadership has the potential to be one of the most stimulating, enjoyable, challenging and significant years of your life. The concept of bringing together a group of people with diverse backgrounds but a common interest in contemporary social issues, in an environment where they can learn, explore and become actively and constructively involved was both obvious and unique – as many brilliant ideas are…Without doubt the year rates as one of the great experiences of my life. Eleven years later I am in regular contact with many of the people I met that year. Several of us have been and still are involved in pro bono ventures together.”
    Roger West, Director, Westwood Spice (and former Commissioner for Community Services) Sydney Leadership 1999

  • “Signing up for Sydney Leadership has proven to be one of the best decisions of my life. For years I had thought and spoken about getting involved with the community sector but I had never acted. Sydney Leadership has given me the skills, confidence and network to move forward. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t apply Sydney Leadership thinking to my professional and personal life.”
    Jono McCauley, Director, Creative Strategy, Eleven Communications. Sydney Leadership 2007

  • “I totally underestimated the positive impact that Sydney leadership was to have in shaping my future, both personally and professionally. Aside from opening new doors and connecting me with some wonderful people, it caused me to reflect on how I could lead and drive constructive change in areas close to my heart in all aspects of my life. Sydney Leadership is not for the fainthearted – but it is well worth the ride.”
    Simon Wright, Director, Simply Sustainable. Sydney Leadership 2003.

  • “The first step in creating positive social change is to have a desire to make a difference in the world. The second step is to know how to convert that desire into real vision and action … to find the courage and resolve needed to be a true leader. Sydney Leadership reveals the power of collaboration, partnership, trust, integrity, authenticity and a strong set of values when exercising leadership.”
    Vanessa Lesnie, Director Strategic Projects, Australian Human Rights Commission. Sydney Leadership 2007.

  • See further testimonials in Sydney Leadership publications online

Sample of organisations who have participated in Sydney & Queensland Leadership


Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW


Aged Care Queensland


NSW Ambulance Service

Amnesty International





Asthma Foundation

Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW

NSW Attorney General's Dept

Australia Council for the Arts

Australia Post

Australian Arabic Communities Council

Australian Army

Australian Red Cross

Australian Youth Climate Coalition

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation


Balmain High School


Big hART

Blake Dawson Waldron

Blue Care

Brain Injury Association Queensland

Brisbane Housing Company

Camp Quality

Cancer Council NSW




City of Sydney City Council

Committee for the Economic Development of Australia

Commonwealth Bank

Conservation Volunteers Australia


Cumberland Health and Research Centre

David Jones

Dept of Family & Community Services

Dept of Immigration and Citizenship

Deutsche Bank

Endeavour Foundation


Ethnic Communities Council of NSW

Fox Studios Australia

Gadens Lawyers

GetUp! Action for Australia

Greening Australia (QLD)

Griffin Theatre Company

Habitat for Humanity Australia

Hepatitis C Council of NSW

Historic Houses Trust Foundation

Home Care Services of NSW

Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission


Indigenous Community Volunteers

Inspire Foundation


Integral Energy

Islamic Council of NSW

Jewish Community Services

John Fairfax Publications

Johnson & Johnson Medical

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Kingfisher Adult Learning


Kogarah Municipal Council


Lee Hecht Harrison

Leichhardt Council

Logan Women’s Health & Wellbeing

Macquarie University

Merrill Lynch HSBC

Micah Projects

Mineral Policy Institute

Mission Australia

Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association

Multilink Community Services

Museums & Galleries NSW

Music Council of Australia

Music NSW

Muslim Women’s Association



National Children's & Youth Law Centre

National Family Daycare Council of Australia



Northern Sydney Area Health Service


NSW Assoc for Adolescent Health

NSW Brain Injury Association

NSW Departments of

  • Ageing, Disability & Home Care

  • Community Services

  • Corrective Services

  • Defence

  • Education & Training

  • Education, Employment & Workplace Relations

  • Health

  • Housing

  • Juvenile Justice

  • Urban Affairs & Planning

NSW Law Reform Commission

NSW Legal Services Commissioner

NSW Native Title Services


Office of the NSW Premier

Outward Bound Australia

Parramatta City Council

Pfizer Australia

Philips Fox

Police Service (NSW)

Police Service (QLD)


QLD Dept of Employment & Economic Development

Queensland Alliance

Queensland Health

Roads & Traffic Authority of NSW

Royal North Shore Hospital

Saatchi & Saatchi

Shine Lawyers

Sisters of Charity Outreach

Social Ventures Australia

South Sydney Youth Services

Spinal Cord Injuries Australia

St Vincent de Paul Society

State Library of NSW

Stockland Corporation


Superannuation Administration Authority NSW

Sutherland Shire Council

Sydney Water



Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation

The Advocacy & Support Centre

The Smith Family

The Spastic Centre

Toyota Financial Services

Tranby Aboriginal College

United Way Sydney

University of New South Wales

University of Sydney

University of Technology Sydney

University of Western Sydney

Urban Art Projects

Wesley College


WWF Australia

Youth & Family Services

YWCA of Sydney

Zurich Financial Services

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