Inaugural off-site Student Leadership Retreat: ‘Leadership in Action’

Last month we held our first off-site Student Leadership Retreat for students across our leadership teams – the College Club Committee, the Wellbeing Team, and the Academic Team.

The Retreat took as its focus ‘Leadership in Action’, and its purpose was to give our student leaders the opportunity to explore (1) what leadership looks like for them, both at College and in their future careers; (2) what their role as a leader might be in relation to key issues currently facing our College community and society more broadly; and (3) how all of us might work together to be part of the solution to these issues.

Given that we are currently celebrating the fortieth anniversary of coeducation at St Mark’s – and conscious also of the ongoing national discussions around respectful relationships and gender equity across all areas of society – we decided to make these issues a particular focus of our discussion.

It was a terrific couple of days which commenced with a team-building dinner at Sprout Cooking School, followed by a full day of facilitated discussions. We stayed at the Adelaide Hills Convention Centre in Hahndorf, and being based away from College not only added to the fun and excitement, but also gave us a chance to gain a fresh perspective on some of the College-related issues that were at the heart of our discussions. Throughout the Retreat we benefited hugely from having former Assistant Deans Kaitlin Beltakis and Chad Lennon join us to facilitate some of the small group discussions.

The Saturday began with a superb session led by Jack Jacobs on the Leadership Shadow. This is a model originally developed by Goldman Sachs and used by organisations including Deloitte, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the Australian Army. The model works from the idea that we must be aware of the ‘shadow’ we cast as leaders – of how our leadership is received by those we serve – if we are to match our impact to our intentions. Jack encouraged us to use the model both reflectively (to take stock of our past and current practice and impact as leaders), and strategically (to consider how we would like things to be, and what we need to put in place to achieve that).

This was followed by two sessions facilitated by Professor Catharine Lumby focusing on leadership in the context of respectful relationships. Catharine is currently undertaking an independent expert review of what we do and can do better to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and she has worked with a range of high-profile organisations including Google, the Australian Defence Force, and the NRL. It was brilliant to have her participating in the Retreat, and in her sessions she encouraged the student leaders first to identify and then to consider how they might rise to the challenges posed by these issues in the College context. Our students brought some exceptional insights and ideas to the table, and we are excited to develop and embed these at St Mark’s over the coming months.

In the afternoon Stuart Meldrum and Rachel Buxton ran a substantial session exploring ideas of imperfection, vulnerability, and courage as leaders, before we ended with a focus on ‘Building a better College’. Here we considered the purpose and value of College more generally, exploring where we might do better and think bigger, to create a culture and community at St Mark’s which is truly supportive, transformative, generous and horizon-expanding for every one of our students.

In addition to giving rise to a host of ideas, the Retreat generated much excitement and enthusiasm for the remainder of the academic year. It also served as a reminder that leadership training here at St Mark’s is an on-going process of learning, reflection, accountability, and mentorship. Our student leaders are vital to the effective running of the College, and a huge asset to our community. Through experiences such as this we aim to give them the opportunity to hone their approach to leadership so they might be equipped as fully and effectively as possible not only for their current roles at St Mark’s but also for their lives beyond College.