Delivering Australia's Next25 Leadership Program

By Holly Redman  |  Dec 21, 2020

Since 2017, Corporate Evolution and Next25 have partnered to deliver the Parliamentary Leaders Program, a unique program to support parliamentarians reconnect with their values and build their capability to leave their desired legacy.

Next25, formally Australian Future Program, was founded by Ralph Ashton in 2011 as Australia’s only non-partisan and non-profit organisation working to understand and improve how Australia makes its future. As a ‘think and do’ tank, Next25 is focussed on answering three significant questions for Australia:

  • What future does Australia want, and are we on track? Next25 asks the public and experts to define and assess progress towards the public interest.
  • Does Australia have what it takes, and if not, what more is needed? Next25 engages leaders, decision-makers, and experts to identify and prioritise improvements to how Australia makes its future (the future-making system).
  • How can we fill the gaps? Next25 creates improvements to the future-making system and inspires others to do the same.

One of the improvements Next25 has created to fill the gaps is the Parliamentary Leaders Program, which emerged from a conversation with Arthur Sinodinos while he was an Australian Senator. Arthur noted from his personal experience that a major gap in “how” Australia makes its future was the lack of professional development for Australia’s parliamentarians, something most other professions and occupations (from doctors to plumbers) have access to. In 2015, Next25 offered the Parliamentary Leaders Program for the first time. By the end of 2020, 7% of all of Australia’s parliamentarians are alumni (rising to 15% in NSW and 10% in Western Australia), with 100% of participants saying they would recommend the course to other politicians.

In 2017, as part of the evolution of the Leadership Program, Ralph asked Corporate Evolution if we would work with Next25 to tailor our proven Transforming Self program specifically for parliamentarians. Having experienced the program and as a trained facilitator of the Transforming Self program, Ralph believed it would spark the deep shift required to help parliamentarians become more powerful leaders. In 2018, we ran our first program together, held in Perth. In 2019, we ran a program in Sydney with state MPs from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. In 2020, in addition to creating a “Coronavirus helpline” for our alumni, we held our first fully online program for state MPs.

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Malcolm Doig and Ralph Ashton with Parliamentarians on the Leadership Program in Sydney, November 2018.


Our Director, Malcolm Doig, has been working closely with Next25 in support and delivery of the Leadership Program. We sat down with him to share insights and learning from this experience.

As a facilitator of the Leadership Program what has been your experience working with Next25?

“Like any group of leaders, it's difficult to generalise as they all come from varied backgrounds. However, from the start of the program, we were very aware that there was a low level of trust, especially between MPs from different parties, and also within parties. Therefore, we placed a lot of emphasis on creating a safe environment and ensuring everyone agreed to mutual confidentiality. We have been happily surprised at how successful that has been. The MPs are genuinely interested in learning from each other and are even trying to help each other, despite some having different political beliefs. Following the success of the foundational the Next25 Leadership Program, we have also launched ongoing group coaching to build on the key elements of the 2-day workshop.

In these small groups, we have been very encouraged to see the level of openness and care that the parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have shown for each other.”

 

From a parliamentarian signing up to finishing the program and coaching, what do you think the experience has been like for them?

“I can't speak for any of the participants beyond what I've heard or observed as the work we do is based on adult learning and therefore it is very experiential. So, each participant’s experience tends to be a little different and it's orientated around where they've come from, what their life has been like and what meaning they've made of their life. We then help them reframe that to explore how they can become the best version of themselves. There are a number of quotes below which might describe some of these experiences.” 

“A valuable opportunity that all MPs should seriously consider both for personal leadership development and to prompt thoughts on how our political systems might be improved.”

— Jonathan O’Dea, Liberals, NSW

“(It is) a unique approach to leadership in complex situations and takes a different approach to “traditional” leadership programs. I have gained immensely from it and look forward to making a much more effective contribution to Australia in the future.”

— Colin de Grussa, Nationals, WA

“I wish a course like this had been available when I was elected to parliament. I am a more powerful and effective representative because of it.”

— Julie Owens, ALP, Federal

“There are very few leadership programs directly targeted for MPs. I found this extremely beneficial in enhancing my awareness and guiding me to confidence to be the leader I know I can be and have a positive impact on my State.”

— Ruth Forrest, Independent, TAS

As a facilitator of this work, what do you feel like the impact has been?

“Ralph and his team at Next25 have been very good at inviting highly influential guest speakers to participate in the program. Respecting the rules of confidentiality, the names will not be disclosed, but these people have been very senior politicians from different parties as well as senior leaders from business and academia.

Sitting in front of current politicians, each speaker has shared stories of lifelong camaraderie amongst their colleagues across the political parties, and how they have leveraged their friendships to forge better, stronger governmental outcomes. They also highlighted the importance of values and knowing what legacy you want to leave. For many of the MPs in attendance, this was a revelation and opened up new possibilities for the role they can play, not only in their electorates and on policy issues but also how politics and parliament operate.”

 

Looking towards the future, how do you see the Corporate Evolution and Australian Futures Project collaboration evolving?

“We successfully ran the first online version of the Parliamentary Leaders Program in November 2020, and we realised that the online format gives us much greater flexibility – both in terms of geography and program delivery.  In other words, there is the potential to increase the frequency of the program and tailor the delivery format to meet different needs. This can accelerate the take-up rate of the program in pursuit of Next25’s goal of having at least 20% of MPs in Australia develop their personal leadership capability in service of the change they entered politics to make.” 

“I have had the chance to meet so many MPs and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this program and am indebted to Ralph for creating it and to his team, Chloe, Safia, and others, in putting together such a well thought-through and inclusive program.”

 

For more information, please visit the Next25 website and/or join their newsletter.

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Watch Ralph Ashton, Executive Director, and Jonathon O’Dea, Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Parliamentary Leaders Program alumnus talk about the benefits of his experience and the program’s potential to drive change for the better in our political system and rebuild broken trust with constituents.