Aboriginal organisations want to make their own decisions about their destiny but at the same time, they want to be respectfully challenged, and are very keen to explore how to do things differently. They have endless experience of poor consultation processes that deliver no outcomes, tokenistic interactions, and being consulted only at the end of someone else’s strategic or resource allocation process. In most situations we’ve worked in, Aboriginal leaders want to be the ones to set the agenda, drive that agenda forward, and have others sign on to their approach.
The strategic challenges for Aboriginal organisations are great but not defeating. There is a long history of persistence and resilience in the face of overwhelming complexity and resistance to change. The constantly shifting scenarios of government policy mean change is a given. We have worked with Aboriginal controlled organisations to understand the changing world around them and to identify where there are opportunities for them in that change. Once the strategic direction is clear, the additional challenge is how to bring along culture and community and make the most of the abundant “natural assets” in each community.
Because most Aboriginal organisations are community-controlled, creating alignment is a key task of an executive team. They need to find the best set of outcomes to satisfy community needs and aspirations, Board expectations, managers understanding of what can be achieved with available resources, and the demands of diverse stakeholders. Community is a powerful force and there are always complexities in navigating the diverse aspirations within. Helping family and community move forward while acknowledging and dealing with past trauma means that there always needs to be a balance between healing the past and creating the future. Leaders of Aboriginal organisations work to acknowledge and allow for a strategic agenda and a pace of change that is manageable for their organisation and their community.
One of the most positive tasks for leaders in these organisations is tapping into the strong pool of talent that exists within the community to make plans happen. We feel privileged to help the many strong formal and informal leaders to sharpen their thinking and ideas, make sure they have a strong evidence base and then produce actions that are realistic given that every issue being addressed has a level of complexity that demands extraordinary levels of insight, analysis and compassion.