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Member Spotlight with Wendy Quinn 

Long term Institute Member, Wendy Quinn CMgr FIML, is our latest Member in the Spotlight. As the Director Leadership Program: Master of Leadership (Health & Human Services) at the University of Tasmania, Wendy is well-versed on the topic of leadership.  

The Institute is grateful to be able to work in partnership with Wendy and the University of Tasmania on the Advanced Leadership for Guiding Transformation, Professional Practice Pathway through the Tasmanian School of Medicine (of which Wendy is the Course Coordinator).  

We recently sat down with Wendy, where we asked her questions about being a leader in the healthcare sector. She shared with us her views on transformational leadership, lifelong learning and the importance of always paying attention.  

What has been your biggest achievement as a leader? 

Two things immediately come to mind. One from about twenty years ago and the other one much more recently.   

Nearly twenty years ago, I had the extraordinary experience of being the Master of Ceremonies at the official opening and naming ceremony for the new Forensic Mental Health Facility in Tasmania managed by Forensic Mental Health Services (which I managed) but was located within the prison system. At the time, I was working in the senior executive leadership of the Tasmanian State Government. This was the unimaginably positive outcome from an extreme crisis involving five deaths in custody. It resulted in the eventual funding and development of a much-needed humane way of providing mental health services to a group of very vulnerable mentally ill patients caught up in the criminal justice system and their families. I had the unique opportunity of leading the mental health service system through this crisis and into the establishment of a new cross-agency integrated offender management system and new contemporary hospital facility. It was such a rare privilege to follow through on something so large over multiple years.   

The experience provided so much rich learning about resilience, using a major crisis as a catalyst for positive change, the power of creative partnerships and the importance of involving the people you initially might consider the enemy in the process.  

My more recent example is also one of extreme privilege. In my encore career as an academic, teaching post graduate leadership in the College of Health and Medicine/UTAS, I have had the great joy of being able to design and deliver the leadership course that I wish that I had had the opportunity to study much earlier in my career in health and human service system leadership. This course enables doctors, nurses and allied health professionals that are emerging in leadership careers to really fast-track their leadership development. It provides students with an intense experience of inner transformation and transformed thinking. The tools they receive then enable them to become agents of transformation in their own work environments, without burning out or being destroyed in the process – as so many leaders in these settings have done.     

What advice would you give to an emerging leader in the health sector?   

Firstly, don’t just rely on your intuitive understanding of what leadership is. Make sure that you equip yourself as soon as possible with some formal education about contemporary leadership theories, frameworks, and tools.   

Secondly, build up a network of supportive people, take advantage of coaching and mentoring and find a way to do some good solid inner work that enables you to develop your rhythm of compassion (a quiet mind, an open heart, presence and radical simplicity) so that you can respond with effortless generosity to all that the world throws at you.  

Thirdly, never stop being curious and learning in any way that you can. 

In your opinion, what key skill should a successful leader focus on?  

I can’t go past the wonderful poet, Mary Oliver, and her advice about ‘paying attention’. Mary Oliver has been quoted as saying: “I must keep my mind on what matters most, which is my work, that is mostly standing still and learning to pay attention.”  

She has also provided her three lessons of life. These are: 

  1. Pay attention;
  2. Be astonished;
  3. Share the astonishment.

I endeavour to live and support my leadership with these three lessons, always playing in my mind, heart, body, and spirit.  

What do you think are the keys to transformational leadership? 

I have learned that if you want to transform anything (a person, a team, an organisation or a community) you need three different things to be working in tandem for leaders at the same time, in a spiral-looping, never-ending three-dimensional way. These are:  

  1. Leaders exposed to transformed thinking;
  2. Leaders who have at least begun the process of inner transformation; and
  3. Leaders who have begun to learn the tools and processes to enable this same transformation in others.

How do you continue to grow and develop your management skills?

I maintain a philosophy of continuous learning. As Gail Kelly once said, “You are never too old or too senior to learn“. 

Be curious, keep reading, keep attending courses, join membership organisations, be open to meeting new people and exploring new ideas, don’t be afraid to try new things and to risk failure, choose some people to be vulnerable with as this if often where the greatest learning opens up, seek out new people and new experiences, be open to learning and pay attention to who and what is emerging.

Complete this sentence: Leadership matters because…. 

It is the driving motivational force that releases magical synergy, power of partnership and the wisdom of crowds collectively solving problems and imagining new futures in a variety of innovative and creative ways that seldom happen when one person works alone.     

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