When Catherine signed up for the ANZSOG Executive Fellows Program (EFP) the last thing she expected was to have to sing.
As the Executive Director, Finance and Business Services for Cenitex, the Victorian Government business entity responsible for providing ICT services to the state’s public service, a board member of the Queen Elizabeth Centre Hospital and on the Finance Committee of the Women’s National Basketball League Melbourne Boomers, Catherine doesn’t often find time to stretch her creative wings.
But creativity is known to add tangible value to leadership by helping to unlock new ways of thinking and moving participants outside their comfort zone.
That’s why ANZSOG’s EFP program now includes a creative session. In 2018 this was singing and voice projection, which for Catherine proved useful in public speaking and was one of many unexpected benefits of the immersive, three-week EFP program.
In 2018, the program was held across Wellington, Canberra and Singapore and concentrated on key building blocks of leadership, creative learning and building networks across nations, intertwined with hands-on workshops in policy writing, problem-solving and visual and creative thinking.
“In our cohort of sixty plus attendees from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Hong Kong, we bonded in different ways and we were encouraged to challenge ourselves to do something different because that is where the mind grows,” she said.
“Having the time out at the EFP in a structured informed manner that allowed me to think, reflect and stretch myself in a safe space was a godsend. It allowed me to discover the new and to remember what I could do and to find the courage to put them in practice again. I used to participate in choral societies right through school and university and then I just stopped, those creative sessions in Canberra brought me back to that happy place.”
It was not just about singing, Catherine said the things she learnt in the EFP inform her work every day and she draws on them in different aspects of her leadership role. Lessons included: the importance of listening; building trust through transparency; and how different styles of leadership are needed for different outcomes – all proved valuable.
“I’m a better listener, more decisive in my decision making and less risk averse as a leader, not bad for a Director of Finance!
“Leadership doesn’t mean you speak or direct all the time; it means you have the authority to enable people around you to do the work that they can do. You have the opportunity to bring out the best of the people around you by adapting and creating a safe and respectful environment to manage different outcomes.”
Catherine spent 22 years working in the commercial and financial sector for some of Australia’s largest companies, before joining Cenitex in 2009.
While the shift from private to public sector proved an eye-opener, with new compliance, regulatory challenges, culture and language, Catherine enjoys the satisfaction that comes from knowing the work she does as a public servant contributes to public good.
“The public service is part of the social contract between citizens and government. In my mind every public servant leaves an ongoing legacy.”
She was drawn to the public service by the government’s ambitious plan for Cenitex to be a shared ICT service provider, “effectively a start-up tech in Victorian government at that time”.
“Cenitex is a state-owned enterprise but also is wholly commercial in its outlook. It has all the positives and negatives of both government and the private sector; it is a fine and often challenging balance that needs to be maintained. Ultimately, we have an obligation to meet our purpose, which is to serve the people of Victoria through secure, effective and contemporary IT services for Government entities,” she said.
Catherine’s key responsibilities in Cenitex are to manage the complex financial, procurement, internal business technology and legal functions, focusing on transformation, governance and implementing business improvement processes to enable the enterprise’s strategy.
A constant challenge is to stay abreast of ever-changing technology to deliver the best possible outcomes for customers and she is proud of the way the agency recently provided work-from-home arrangements to more than 30,000 public servants quickly and efficiently, contributing to the resilience capacity of the state.
Learning to handle challenges was a common theme of the EFP; a highly topical and shared issue for all participants no matter what government or country they represented.
“We had conversations with very senior public servants, highly professional and renowned leaders in their own space, and frank conversations about the challenges and benefits, pros and cons.
“Being able to meet people from different parts of government, managing diverse projects and having informal conversations about everything from leadership to strategy to challenges with implementation to funding issues to capability issues… It’s really enriching.
“I learnt from and draw on those conversations for different aspects of what I do every day.
“If you have an opportunity to complete an ANZSOG program, I would say make the time and do it. You will never regret it. I would do the course again in a heartbeat.”
Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)
A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.
Executive Fellows Program (EFP)
A three-week program challenging senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.
Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)
A unique two-week program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the capacity to reflect and learn continuously.