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7 Questions on Leadership with Ian Cumming


Name: Ian Cumming


Title: Group Director, Operations


Organisation: SU Australia


I have been involved with SU ministries for over 15 years and have a real passion for seeing both young people and youth workers thrive and live a full life. I aim to pair wisdom with a deep commitment to SU ministries and I look to forge new paths to grow the mission in our ever-changing society. I have a real desire to see people identify and develop their gifts and talents. I believe that when we as individuals are working with our God-given talents, the organisation is at its strongest.



Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Ian's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?


One of the most challenging aspects of leadership I have found is the internal dialogue. I wrestle between making clear and thought-out decisions that may cause pain for others versus the care and compassion that I feel for those I lead. I find it a real challenge to move on from those thoughts at times.


Another real challenge for me is being able to switch between the long-term/high-level thinking needed for vision and the detail that my team needs me to be in at times to help them through. I tend to stay higher level and miss opportunities to help my team sort through details when they need me.


2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?


It feels like I fell into leadership. I started as a school chaplain, the fieldworker of our organisation, and slowly moved up the leadership ladder when opportunities arose. There was a tendency for me to lead whatever group/team I was in so I guess my leadership skills were always there for when the opportunities came about. Because I have this feeling that I fell into leadership roles, I am very intentional about developing and sharpening mu skill set. I read as much as I can, ask lots of questions, and have a good group of mentors & coaches who I lean on.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?


Poorly!

I have two types of work days. The first is when I am home, my office is at home, and the second is when I am traveling, this has been my main type of work day since taking on my new role. When working from home, I like to start my day in a 'quiet room'. I read my bible, prayed, and reflected for 30-45 minutes. I find this starts my day well. Then, depending on what meetings I have scheduled, I prioritize my email & to-do list and slowly work through tasks for the day.


I must confess that I don't achieve this sort of day as much as I like. Then to end the day, I make sure that I purposefully shut everything down in my office so that I have some sort of full stop to the day. Three times a week I go for a run and that helps finish the work day. When I travel, I don't do as many tasks and emails. Sometimes at night in the hotel, I may do urgent work. My days are structured by the meetings set for each day.


When I travel my mindset is to be in the space I am and to be with the people I am with. As an introvert, I get drained pretty quickly from being around people so I switch off as best I can once I'm in my hotel room so that I am ready for the next day.


4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?


Be careful not to make assumptions!

I have had some people question me about what they thought were my values and ideas. They were making assumptions about these as they didn't really know me. We were able to talk things through and I was able to share myself with them.


It helped me realize how I may make assumptions. I have in the past looked at the actions of my employees and assumed the intentions behind those actions based on my thought processes. As strange as it may seem, not all people think like me! It has been a good reminder to ask questions and listen deeply before prescribing intentions to people.


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 can't name just one! Quiet by Susan Cain and Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson have been instrumental for me to understand how I am wired. This has been very helpful in leading myself and others. The book that is impacting me right now is The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. The biggest impact has been his discussion on the power of vulnerability in creating in cohesive leadership team. I have found it to be quite profound.


6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


Understand your why because leadership is tough!

I wish I had learned that sooner. I had this naïve idea that leadership was easy because you get to make all the decisions and you get things your way. What a funny young man I was !!


Knowing why you do what you do, helps when leadership gets tough. Knowing that I am called to build teams, grow, and develop leaders in a space that impacts the lives of children and young people is what I fall back on when it feels like the world is against me. I have a small number of young people in my memory whose stories I call on when the roadblocks come. These young people, who probably don't even remember me, help me to keep pushing and not give up. The why is incredibly powerful.


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?


It happened just recently.

We have been going through a difficult period and my new role had me leading people I barely knew, and they didn't know or trust me, through change that was at the core of their roles. I was learning about people and places who are saying 'Hey, we need to change what you have been doing for x number of years'. It was an interesting time. One of the leaders came to me to express how much they appreciated my leadership through this time.


They felt heard and valued and could now see why we needed to make changes and how this new normal could actually grow the ministry in a way that was not possible before. It was such an encouragement for me that all the hard work and sometimes sleepless nights of worry were worth it.

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