7 Questions with Lucy Gowdie
Name: Lucy Gowdie
Current title: Deputy Principal
Current organisation: Peninsula Grammar School
A believer in the true vocation of teaching and the uniqueness of every individual, Lucy has forged a career built on the imperative that it is the right of each child to learn. With over 20 years in education and the last 10 in leadership positions, she believes that the most important role in society today is that of the teacher, the person charged with shaping the possibilities of our young people today for the betterment of tomorrow.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Effectively managing the competing priorities that each day presents is the greatest challenge in education leadership. Learning how to prioritise the unknown and balance this with the known imperatives of the day is a skill in and of itself.
Education leadership is a complex web of contexts and requires adaptability and consistency and, as such, the ability to balance the interests and expectations of all stakeholders, be it teacher, student, parent or community, requires precision and calm.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
When I graduated from University I was 20 years old, energised and determined to change the lives of young people. I grew very quickly disillusioned by the "get in line" approach to career progression in education, and so whenever an opportunity arose, no matter how small, that aligned with my values as an educator, I would take it. I fought for the roles I wanted, and spent a decade learning the skills of leadership through the micro opportunities I had and through my own study, never losing sight of the fact that leaders are readers. I was unsuccessful in my first attempt at the role of Deputy Principal, being informed by the external recruiter via generic email that 'I needed more experience.' So when the incumbent fell through after two months, I met with the Principal and asked for the opportunity to act in the position until a suitable replacement was found. I knew, that in my 'acting' I would get the necessary exposure and experience that the 'get in line' theory had so long precluded me from attaining. I 'acted' from the September to May, at which point the position was re-advertised, and I went up against five of the best education leaders across the nation and internationally for the role. I was successful, and now, three years later, relish the experiences I have had and the opportunity I have been afforded to show my capabilities and serve my community. It was however a long journey to the destination.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My day is highly structured, as a working mother it needs to be.
I wake at 6am and read the days news, at 6.30am I practice Yoga for thirty minutes, between 7 and 8am I get the children ready and make sure they are sorted for their day.
I get to work by 8am and meet with my Admin support to discuss the days roadmap and prepare for the meetings ahead.
The day is usually a balance of strategy, operation and administration, dispersed with teacher training and student engagement - these are the known factors, the unknown always usurp the original plan.
At 3.30pm I will meet again with Admin support and discuss what we accomplished throughout the day and what needs to be addressed. We set a course for the next day to ensure our 'To Do' is done.
Between 4pm and 5.30pm parent meetings, staff meetings, executive meetings and strategic meetings are held. I will usually run these and prepare the workshops or information for them.
I usually arrive home around 6pm (baring a concert, parent information evening or event that would see me at work until 8pm) I talk, rest and play with my children until 8.30pm at which time I spend 30 minutes going through my inbox and corresponding accordingly.
I do not like to email staff in the evening, so delay my emails until the following day.
At 9pm I commence my work, reviewing the days meetings, actioning necessary items and completing my administrative tasks.
I turn my technology off at 11.30pm and try and read one article or one chapter on relevant research in education.
And so the days unfold.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The most recent leadership lesson I have learned is to talk less and listen more. I am privileged to have an exemplary mentor in this field who has taught me through his respectful silences that there exists immeasurable influence. To not react, to not take the bait, to not over communicate, but to listen, for what is not being said is one of the most powerful tools a leader can have in their kit.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I only recently read Women Don't Ask by Babcock and Laschever and it has profoundly shaped me as I build my career and begin to focus on my next steps in leadership. In it they identify the cultural norms that have defined women over time and the impact this categorisation has had on the willingness of women to fight for what is worth fighting for. I was particularly interested in their exploration of the decorative and passive nature of how women are raised, while men are the recipients of a more competitive upbringing, where their assertiveness is rewarded.
The impact of this book has been profound as a young woman in leadership as I have experienced gender discrimination on many occasions. One example refuses to leave the corners of my mind, I have learnt to accept it, almost embrace it, as the pivot point for my career.
On a cold winters morning I was trying to locate my cardigan, so as to keep warm in the office. I was then in a Middle Management role. I went to the then Deputy Principal's office and asked if she had seen it. Her response to me was 'Oh I wouldn't know, have you checked the Principal's Office?'
The pain of this comment lingers with me to this day, the impact of it has profoundly shaped who I am and has triggered in me a determination to ensure that no young woman experience this form of discrimination in their workplace, or anywhere, not from anyone, ever.
I was not assertive nor confident enough then to object immediately to her inference and to hold her accountable for what she had said. I am now. It is because of books like Women Don't Ask that I have the strategies to address matters such as this, to know I have the fundamental right to equal treatment and to a safe workplace.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
You focus on what matters, and in my institution that is learning.
You build capacity by sharing your knowledge, by developing clear processes and by ensuring the focus remains on the work.
You celebrate your champions and you find commonalities amongst their qualities that enable them to see the possibilities before them.
My experience of the 'get in line' has taught me, some of the greatest leaders have not been in education for 40 years, they have been in it for 4. You have to be prepared to invest in these people, show them what you have learnt and lead them to be a better version of yourself.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
There are so many, but one that stands out recently during the COVID crisis was an email from a father.
Distressed at losing his business, and struggling to pay the School fees, he wrote to thank the leadership team for their endeavour in the most complex of landscapes.
What he wrote has resonated so deeply with me. The simplicity of his email had a profound impact upon me.
For it is rare that we recieve gratitude, for in today's society so many are quick to judge or voice their discontent on social media, drawing attention to their opinion and negating any responsibility to check the facts.
In his quiet and gentle way this father simply wrote;
Remember always that this too shall pass, but one thing will always remain.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown.