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Jana Phan's Reflections on the 2021 Dialogue

Author: Jana Phan

The AVLD ecosystem: becoming part of it, contributing to it and appreciating the legacy it will leave.

Scrolling through the AVLD alumni, it’s easy to be impressed by the collection of individuals presented in front of you. The calibre of people’s achievements, their ambition for more and their desire to have a positive impact on this world is clear.

When the 2021 delegates were announced, another cohort of equally impressive people.

Reflecting back, I can hear the pleasant chuckles amongst the 2017 and 2019 alumni, “haha, do you think they know what they’re in for? Do you think they’re ready for the surprise?!”

We hadn’t anticipated what it meant to become part of the AVLD ecosystem. I think we all thought “oh sweet, a 101 on management and leadership, but delivered in the context of a cohort of 50 per cent Australians and 50 per cent Vietnamese. Great, an opportunity to expand my network to include Vietnamese or Australian people”.

We were wrong. Gladly so.

Somehow, the selection process was able to bring together individuals who, at this moment in time, this moment in their individual lives, were in a similar frame of growth and development, receptive to what was ahead of us and further united in our ambition for the positive development of bilateral relations between Australia and Vietnam.

Day one, session one – take your preconceived ideas about what you’re in for and put them in the bin... No no, let’s recycle them – we’re going to take what you think the AVLD is and turn it into something even greater. The following four days combined to create what was simultaneously a daunting expedition of unknown territory, an exploration through vulnerability, and yet an experience that was welcomed and incredibly refreshing.

The AVLD experience… it is an ecosystem: an interconnected, complex and multifaceted experience that empowers individuals to reflect on who they are, who their peers are and how this awareness intersects with what it means to be a leader. The ecosystem is comprised of individuals who each gifts a part of themselves, consequentially, this gift contributes to the growth of the ecosystem. In return, the individual gains significantly more than they put in, something only made possible through a collective contribution

As I reflect back on my induction into the AVLD ecosystem, a few learnings stand out to me:

  1. Leadership as a verb. Leadership is not being the CEO of X or the co-founder of Y. Of course, leadership is not mutually exclusive from one’s position title, but simply holding such a title does not make one a leader.

  2. Intentional space. The proactive creation of space is required to allow person-to-person connection and for one to lead with empathy.

  3. I am worthy

Leadership as a verb.

Leadership is an active process, it is the act of creating an environment of the right conditions for yourself and others to thrive.

It was refreshing going through the AVLD experience without clearly knowing what each person did, what their title was. Sure, I read everyone’s bios before the event and was blown away, but the AVLD was not about getting a cohort together to discuss Mr CEO, Ms Director, Mx Important title. It was about connection, specifically, leadership through connection. We had the freedom of not being put in a ‘box’ and the freedom to not put others into a box.

Having this freedom challenged my pre-conceived and stubborn ideas of what a person who does X is like. It was a healing experience and has enabled me to be more open minded.

Intentional space.

We learnt, and experienced first-hand the importance of creating intentional space for leadership.

Despite COVID-19 travel restrictions, the AVLD Team were able to create an online experience like no other. Not even comparable to any leadership, team building or professional development workshop I’ve participated in in-person.

The AVLD Team led by example. Showing us the impact and possibilities of creating intentional space. It was surprising to be able to feel so connected to people I’ve never met before, surprising how comfortable I felt being uncomfortable in front of these ‘strangers’. The online environment perhaps a strength of the dialogue – the possibility of being anonymous was exploited to really enable individuals to become vulnerable. And through that, connect with each other. We were strangers no more.

Outside the intensity of out workshops, the online experience further enhanced the people-to-people connection. We dropped in on each other’s home lives as the not-so-perfect virtual backgrounds revealing the occasional floating head of a partner, housemate, children, even the back room where a frontline healthcare worker, a fellow delegate, took a moment of respite for the demands of the hospital floor. We were in each other’s lives.

Importantly, although this space was created for us, we were also open to, and agreed to giving our true and wholehearted selves to the AVLD ecosystem. An intentional space was created for us and we intentionally accepted and allowed it to be a space for vulnerability, courage and empathy. Creating such a space enabled us to better understand ourselves and others, to be seen and see others.

I am worthy.

I need not say more (I had to learn that).

If the AVLD experience is to be likened to a bowl of phở, each of us represented a different spice, ingredient or technique. Some were the spicy chilli, others the patience required to let the broth simmer overnight, some brought the artistry and flare required to assemble the bowl into an Instagramable post. Our differences were uniting and reiterated the strength and value of diversity, particularly in the context of leadership. This is a testament to the AVLD selection process – the principles of diversity and inclusion were clearly upheld.

I am grateful for the experience I was given and am indebted to how its impact on me will continue to support my development and subsequently that of others. I am encouraged and excited to continue contributing to the AVLD ecosystem.

I have no doubt that the AVLD legacy will be one of positive impact – for individuals, for leaders and their teams and for the future of Australia-Vietnam bilateral relations.


The 2021 Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue is proudly sponsored by our partners


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