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February 7, 2013

When you lead … criticism follows

Being an active contributor in a small community is a fascinating subject! You could write a book about it!!

Over the past 12 months I’ve dived into the Parent Committee at our local primary school (aka Parent Club) and taken a co-lead role with 3 mums. As with much of my working life, I find myself the only man actively involved in the community building space.

Last year our new committee found our feet, tightened up some policies and, like in previous years, took the lead on some important initiatives and fund raising activities. The co-leadership idea that I pushed hard for worked really well. There was always 1 person to step and lead when others became too busy with life. We did good … without being great. We changed some stuff, and as you’d expect, copped some flack from others in the community. As Seth Godin says in one of my favorite posts … “If you are not being criticized, then you are not leading!” Criticism and leadership are intertwined like innovation and failure.

One area of intense criticism and community ‘rumor-milling’ that I did not expect was our effort to set up an After School Care (ASC) Profram. Identified as the #1 need by large parts of the school community, a small group within Parent Club (and others) worked tirelessly to broker a deal with Camp Australia, the Surf Coast Shire and the Aireys Community Hall. After more than 1/3 of families at the school ‘showed up’ late year to a registration session, it starts next Monday!

So why is school care needed in Aireys Inlet – a small, coastal village nearly an hour from the nearest big town (Geelong)? And why has ASC created rumor, innuendo and dissent in our community? I don’t have answers, but I have a few opinions.

So why is ASC needed down here? Ok, imagine you are a young mum with 2 children in prep and grade 2. You are desperate to gain a university qualification so that you can have a career in your 30′s and beyond. Your husband works and school pickup (at 3pm) 2 days a week is not possible with your study timetable. Or imagine you are a single mum struggling to make ends meet. You’ve got one child and have an opportunity to work 3 days a week in Geelong to help make ends meet. But your job finishes at 5pm. Without a reliable and accountable ASC Program, neither woman can pursue their goals.

The examples above are fiction, but very close to some local truths. The fact is, very few families down here have family support for the 1 or 2 days they need their kids picked up from school – those that have family support are blessed. And this is a community that, more than most, sees friends step up and look after each other’s kids when needed. I love that local support about this community and I’ve written plenty about it in the past. However (and this is my opinion), you simply can’t rely on friends 2 days a week, 40 weeks of a year so that you can work or study.

As for the rumor mill and criticism … it comes with the territory and I’m not going to even share my opinions because they are probably wrong and based on false assumptions! In Parent Club last year, it is clear that we did not communicate clearly enough or often enough. The program funding model evolved and underwent many iterations … and met its share of roadblocks going through school council. It’s re-taught me how tough communicating something new like this is. On the surface it seems simple, but it is complex and felt like a journey of 3 steps forward and then 3 steps back. Little by little, with perseverance and commitment from a select few, ASC is now a reality for this little community.

So, as the Parent Club AGM approaches and I put my hand up to co-lead once again, my 2012 experience of success and failure makes me a little wiser. One thing is for sure, I’ll be sticking to my main principle for working in committees – learned by working alongside the wonderful Viv Mcwaters – “By working together and supporting each other in this committee, we will have fun, make each other look good and we all end up closer friends at end than when we started.” Now that a principle to live into!!

GeoffBrown | Community & Belonging, Leadership

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