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Reflecting on lessons in leadership

Author: Joey Nguyen

The 2021 Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue was a once in a lifetime experience - something that transformed me as a person, a leader and as an advocate for the bilateral relationship between Australia and Vietnam.

As someone who listens to, reads and watches a lot of leadership and personal development content, I will admit I wasn’t expecting to learn much new in this area - instead, I thought my growth would mostly come through other aspects of the program.

I was mistaken.

I found that leadership was embodied in a wholly different way by the AVLD team and the speakers who generously shared their time with us: senior government representatives, diplomats, entrepreneurs, educators, alumni and more.

By the end of the Dialogue, I had taken away three important lessons that have changed my perspective on leadership permanently.

1) There's a difference between real vulnerability and carefully curated, “comfortable” vulnerability

In recent times, I have always considered myself to be someone comfortable bringing my “whole self” to the workplace, but the AVLD experience has led me to question the areas in which I remain closed off to others.

Some of the things I shared during the program have only been shared with my closest friends and family (if that!), and I have to thank the AVLD team for creating an environment where, despite taking place virtually, that was possible. A big part of the “brave space” was facilitated through the example set for us - leaders sharing with the cohort deeply personal experiences that have shaped who they are.

Not all of the stories shared with us mapped perfectly to the narrative arc of the hero's journey, or fit nicely into a ribbon-wrapped growth moment that led to bigger and better things. They simply were what they were - very challenging experiences that in many cases still impact the lives of these leaders today.

Hearing their stories, and having the realisation that the toughest challenges in my life - the ones that don’t have a happy ending, or perhaps any kind of resolution at all - are not the ones I ever share with my world, led to me reflect on a number of questions:

  • Why have I never shared these things before?

  • What kind of calculations (conscious or not) do I make before sharing things with my team, friends, or people in general?

  • Is my vulnerability curated? Is it intended to drive a particular benefit or outcome?

  • Is it an oxymoron to be “comfortable being vulnerable”? Can real vulnerability ever be comfortable?

2) There isn't a superior "command and control" style of leadership that I need to learn to get to the next stage of my career

Perhaps I’ve seen this reflected so many times in my life that I should have expected this answer.

It reminds me of a younger me expecting a sudden influx of new knowledge and wisdom to accompany adulthood, only to realise that I felt exactly the same - and the only differences were the external perceptions of who I now was.

Still, this is something I’ve continually felt around leadership. I’m waiting to be exposed for my “figure it out as you go” leadership style and for someone to point out all the things that I don’t know, and I intrinsically feel everyone who is at a further stage in life / career or in a different field to me has got there with a polished style I have never learned and a wealth of knowledge that I simply won’t ever have.

One of the most confidence boosting and affirming things about the AVLD was being around people who relate to people in the same way that I do, and learning from leaders who see people in the same way that I do.

To hear near-universally from the leaders across different fields the same themes - “command and control” is a way to manage, not to lead; servant leadership; seeing relationships through an empathetic, rather than a transactional lens; re-learning to see everyone as human - made me feel “hey, maybe I am doing something right after all!”.

I still have a long way to go on the path of self-belief in my leadership, but I feel heartened and empowered to trust my instincts and do what I feel is right, rather than falling into the comparison trap and assuming the answers lie in books and frameworks.

3) People aren't black and white, and duality is human

The most important lesson that I’ve ever learned in my life happened seven years ago, and it is reflected in this quote from a friend and mentor, Seth:

“It’s easy to let work define us or become all encompassing, but this is simply a mistake. Even very busy people can carve time out to devote to things they are passionate about, but are wholly separate from their vocation, without also giving themselves over fully to that pursuit.

Wallace Stevens is one of my favorite poets, with an incredible body of work, and he worked every day as an executive at an insurance company (pretty soul crushing, irrelevant kind of stuff for a poet).

"He just did them both.”

I have read these words countless times over the years. They changed me completely and have embodied my approach to life ever since, encouraging me to pursue a fuller existence in all aspects of myself - and I truly believe that without Seth’s advice, I would not be the person that sought out and participated in the 2021 AVYLD program.

Hearing the range of stories and discovering the multifaceted lives of my cohort and the speakers gave me an immediate sense of kinship with these incredible people.

  • Venture capitalists slash meditation teachers.

  • Women in Tech pioneers slash singers.

  • Music industry moguls slash mindfulness gurus.

  • PhDs slash rock climbing rockstars.

The list goes on. Every story I heard reaffirmed my belief that there is something magic in the breadth of people’s experiences and perspectives. I thought over and over again, “You are all what I aspire to be”.

We aren’t black and white. We don’t need to put ourselves into a box or define ourselves by a role.

We are many things. We are paradoxical. We are human!


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


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