Ben Barlow learning and growing by empowering young people

Empower .jpg

Shoutout out to Young Farming Champion Marlee Langfield for the awesome image

As highlighted by the Chair of our youth leadership team, Dr Jo Newton in her opionion piece in the Stock and Land, agriculture has a lot of great immersion workshop leadership training opportunities. The question Picture You in Agriculture is seeking the answer to is – Are we making the same mistake as the rest of the world and not giving young people the opportunity to practice what they are learning.

The problem is, while the science of management has advanced significantly in the past three decades, the practice of management hasn’t.  The new purpose of business — and the future of work — has to include maximizing human potential. Source

The management team at Western Local Land Services is certainly doing everything it can to empower emerging leaders through action learning  Ben and Erlina.jpg

Chair of Western Local Land Services Ben Barlow with GM Erlina Compton – source

In the last episode of our Lessons Learnt series we met 21 year-old Kate McBride and learnt of her leadership journey. As the youngest board member of Local Land Services she credited Ben Barlow, chair of the Western Division, as an important role model and mentor. Today we chat to Ben to discover his take on leadership, diversity on boards and his advice to young people looking to make an impression on the world.

With experience in agriculture, both on the ground and in corporate and financial circles, Ben Barlow was an obvious choice as an inaugural board member when Local Land Services formed in 2014. The new organisation represented an amalgamation of the Livestock Pest and Health Authority (LHPA), Catchment Management Authorities (CMA) and extension sections of the NSW Department of Agriculture.

“I thought it would be a bit of a challenge to bring them all together.” Ben says of his reasons for joining the Western Division board. “Whenever you bring cultures together you can’t expect them to work well straight up; you’ve got to bring the best out of them all across the organisation and you set the tone from the top – from the chair and the board down – and through good counselling and quality discussion time with the general manager who is running it day to day.”

“When we started I think the western board had the lowest customer engagement and staff satisfaction scores of the group and now they are the highest in the state,” Ben says of the transformation that has occurred in the five and a half years since inception.

This transformation has been a product of clear direction and purpose from the beginning, with the Western Division having a strategic plan in place before one was finalised for LLS as a whole.

“Our principles are customers and stakeholders, people, productivity and natural resources of the region,” Ben says. “If a policy enhances these then good; if not we don’t do it. It’s pretty basic. This makes it one of the few agri-political boards I have been in that does not have any politics at all. It just focusses on the job at hand.”

Ben has held the position of chair for three years and believes it is not the role of the chair to have opinions or objectives, but rather to get the best out of the people sitting around the board table, and to facilitate the best questions so management can form direction. To this end he is a strong advocate of a diverse board.

“Over time we’ve moved the composition of the board from mainly older men and a couple of women to a fifty/fifty gender ratio with an average age of about 40, with the youngest being 21,” he says.

“We’ve moved to a generational change to create diversity, pass to the next generation and to maintain good corporate leadership and governance.”

But gender is not the only measure of a diverse board and the Western Division has a stated objective to encourage traditional owners to apply for a seat on the board in the next elections.

“I think that will be a significant step forward. A board is about asking the right questions and you therefore need the right people represented around the table.”

As Kate McBride can attest, joining a board when young and female can be overwhelming and although LLS offers professional development opportunities such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, it is personal guidance and mentorship that can prove most valuable.

“I said to Kate when she was appointed that this was going to be a bit daunting but I would stand behind her all the way,” Ben says, “and it hasn’t been just me but the whole board who have nurtured her and helped her grow. It’s about relationships: Kate may have valued my support and advice on lots of levels but I have also really valued that interaction. It has helped me grow.”

“I enjoy seeing people grow and develop and try, and make mistakes and reach out and try again and get over it. If you do nothing you’re going to learn nothing. If you do something and make a mistake you learn. You’ve got to do something to learn. I’ve had some wonderful leaders and I’ve had some awful ones and I’ve learnt a lot from the best and I’ve learnt a lot from the worst and I’ve made a lot of mistakes myself.”

With his experience and life-learning Ben has this advice for people looking to make an impression on the world:

  • Listen carefully and watch; take the best of things you see and ditch the worst of things you see, and be very distinctive about that choice,
  • Don’t put on social media what you don’t want to see on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald; where there is mystique there is margin – it gives you some latitude and leverage in life,
  • Find someone who might be able to help you and ask them to help; and they will usually say yes

By legislation, Ben’s term as chair and board member of the LLS Western Division will come to an end in 2020, but Ben believes in the power of positive transition and will step down from these roles this year, but don’t call it succession.

“I think succession implies the end of something whereas I think it is about progression where the work you’ve done has got you to a point and the next part of the journey for the enterprise is a new leader who takes that culture further and does something with it. We’re here for many generations and if we do it well handing over the reins will be a progressive thing.”

#YouthinAg #StrongerTogether #YouthVoices

Author: Picture You in Agriculture

The world needs creative, innovative and courageous young people who can connect, collaborate and act. We know that youth may only be 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future. The time is now to let them share their dreams and design the future they want to see.

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