Don’t Feed the Ducks: S4S Conference


By Sam Marsh:

The musings of an LLB Student while attending the S4S National Leadership Conference.

The University of Wollongong, in association with the Australian Student Leadership Association, hosted the 10th annual Student Leadership Conference; “Discover – Endless Opportunities, Unleashing Potential”.

I’ve walked away from this conference with much inspiration and insight.  One aspect that has resonated with me is that leadership has nothing to do with leading, and everything to do with empowerment.  Empowerment of others, which results in the betterment of oneself.

The weekend program was garnished with thought-provoking speakers who provided invaluable advice on; Advocacy, Social Justice and Empowering others, to name but a few.  Some spoke about their respective entrepreneurial journeys, and provided guidance on what to do when failure littered their path.  Each encouraged us that our passion could sustain our trajectory, irrespective of the outcome.

Another gem was that our respective opinions on matters will be directly affected by our personal experiences, culture and upbringing.  It is an immovable feast to change someone else’s opinion, however understanding theirs may be the key to aligning your idea’s with theirs.

One speaker, Stephanie Lorenzo from ‘Project Futures’, has changed the lives of many people, simply as a result of reading a book – ‘The road of lost innocence’ by Somaly Mam.  Stephanie’s dream was to become a successful marketer, to one day become the CEO of an organisation.  Never in her wildest imaginings would she have thought that she would start a not-for-profit, raising awareness and funds for human trafficking.

Her mantras have kept her focused.  “Embrace Yes” – if you don’t say ‘yes’ you can’t move forward. “Ask for forgiveness, not permission” – it is easier to apologise if someone’s toes are stepped on, rather to seek permission in the first place.  “Follow your bliss” – whatever flicks your switch, pursue that!

Throughout the conference the topic of “what makes a good leader?” was brandished about.  And, it was while participating in an “experience” session, that I had a personal revelation.  Leadership has nothing to do with organisational skill, aptitude or leading.  It HAS EVERYTHING to do with empowering others.

In small groups of students we were instructed to create a water-carrying device.  It had to support three plastics cups of water, and needed at least one paddle pop stick.  Each group was furnished with different items, and we were instructed to negotiate with other groups to obtain the items we needed.  We were overflowing with straws, without a paddle pop stick in sight!

There were more than ten groups of students working together to fashion this device. Throughout the exercise certain impediments were imposed on us, such as; only those with black t-shirts could touch the device, all the while attempting to meet the deadline.  In the beginning, none of the teams wanted to barter.  Why?  Because we were all frantically attempting to create a plan with the items we had been given to ascertain what was needed.

Our group worked like a well-oiled team.  No one bickered.  No one assumed leadership.  We listened to one another as we threw out ideas.  Each member contributing, and the other’s listening intently.  Collaboration was in full swing.

The end result? A perfectly functioning water carrying device, fit for a maiden.  The key?  Listening.  It was as simple as that.  No one exerted themselves above the rest.  No one shouted down anothers’ idea’s.  Each played their respective part and the outcome was ideal.

My takeaway – to lead, one must be prepared to follow. Oh, and one mustn’t feed the ducks!

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