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Featured CEO: Stu Cameron of Wesley Mission on resilient leadership

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Stu Cameron is the CEO and Superintendent Minister of Wesley Mission since January 2021, having served for almost 15 years as Lead Minister for Newlife Church, the largest church in the Uniting Church in Australia.

Tertiary qualified as an Accountant, Stu worked in a Chartered Accounting firm upon graduation, and later as a Systems Analyst for Mitsubishi Motors in Adelaide. He was ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in May 2004.

Wesley Mission is one of Australia’s oldest charities and churches. They offer support to Australians in many ways, including emergency relief, mental health, support for families, young adults and people living with disabilities, and much more.

What does resilience mean to you and our organisation?

For me personally, resilience means the developed capacity to lead in a consistent, empowering manner through all seasons, whether opportunity or challenge rich, or both! Such resilience requires highly developed EQ and the capacity to lead myself well before I lead others, making adjustments to my personal rhythms as required by the circumstances.

Similarly, for Wesley Mission to be a resilient organisation means that we are able to continue to reach for our vision (to do all the good we can) through every season. Such resilience cannot be developed in the moment of challenge but is drawn on then. It is developed through consistent investment in people, processes and systems – and constant communication of our vision (why), mission (what) and values (who) to every team member.

In the face of ongoing challenges and disruptions, did you protect what you have or seek out new growth opportunities? And how was this applied at Wesley Mission?

Like every organisation in our sector, the last eighteen months have tested us like no other in recent times. Wesley Mission has a storied history that dates back to 1884, and even before that. There is a rich heritage to protect, should we choose. Certainly, when the pandemic hit, and lockdown and other restrictions materially impacted our work, we had to take certain defensive measures to protect our resource base and our long-term ability to do our work. Where we could and where necessary, we reduced costs. But we also continued to actively seek growth opportunities, both organic and through new work. In particular, over the last two years we have significantly increased our work and reach in community services in northern NSW and through our disabilities services. This was consistent with the growth focus of our strategic plan that ran through to June 2021.

How should a resilient leader show up in a time of stress? How can a good leader help other people or organisations?

In times of stress its critical that a resilient leader do all they can to be a ‘non-anxious’ and calming presence. An extended crisis is a breeding ground of personal and organisational anxiety. An effective leader will seek to empower others to navigate through, as well as chart a course to the horizon beyond current stress-inducing circumstances.

Practically, for me this means doubling down on my role as Wesley Mission’s ‘chief storyteller’. Every opportunity I have I tell inspiring stories from across our organisation of our team creatively meeting the challenges COVID has presented. My hope is this will both honour those I speak of, but also inspire and ‘give permission’ to others to creatively tackle the challenges they face – to stare down ‘problems’ with innovative solutions.

It’s also been vital to continue to communicate news that impacts people and their work in a timely, transparent and honest way. Trust is critical all the time, but never more so that in stressful times. I make myself available to all of our 2400 team members, actively inviting them to raise issues with me, and respond to personally respond to every email I receive.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, one of the my most critical roles in this season has been to constantly remind our team of our ‘why’ – our mission – which is ‘to do all the good we can.’ Leading into the latest Sydney lockdown we engaged in a three-month strategic planning process that engaged over 500 of our team in regional workshops and conversations – all of which fed into our new strategic directions – to build a healthy organisation and extend our impact. I have no doubt this fresh strategic emphasis, which we have rolled out in the midst of lockdown, has strengthened and focussed our resolve.

 

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