At the end of last term, the Danebank leadership team for 2020 was announced. At this assembly, Principal Mrs Maryanne Davis spoke to our girls about how pressure added by others in terms of their expectations of us, is in fact a privilege.
Billy Jean King was a great tennis player. She won 39 Grand Slam titles and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame for her amazing feats on the international tennis circuit. The book she wrote about her life is entitled Pressure is a Privilege. She called it this because she believes that others only put you under pressure ... when they expect that you can deliver more than you are achieving at the moment.
Today, as we announce our student leaders, we want them to understand that the pressure they will be put under is a privilege. Their new responsibility is due to the belief that others have in them. It is an indication that others are depending on you to be the best you can be. Others have chosen you for leadership because you have already shown that you have what it takes to be able to shift your perspective on pressure from something you see as threatening, to something you see as a gift that will enable you to be better.
One woman who shows us what this looks like is Barbie-Lee Kirby
Barbie-Lee is an indigenous Australian who was born and grew up in the town of Brewarrina in far west NSW. She went to a high school where virtually all students were indigenous, and she was one of only five students who went through to the HSC – one of the others being her twin brother. In her world, pretty much everyone, except teachers and shop owners, were indigenous.
‘Forced’ to try out
When Barbie-Lee was 12 years old her, she says her mum “forced her to try out” for a rep netball team and she was selected. She was the only indigenous player and the youngest player. As part of the team, she travelled throughout NSW in a world that was very different to the norm in Brewarrina.
Barbie-Lee said of the other rep players: “They were [also] 16-18 years old, so a lot older than me, [but] the kind of conversations they were having were about the subjects they were taking in high school and what they wanted to study in university.
“While my peers were up to mischief back home, I was playing netball. I was focused. I was eating right. I was training. I was being disciplined.”
Life at university
When she finished school, Barbie-Lee commenced her Bachelor of Business at UTS. She talks about the culture shock of moving from a small outback town to the city, saying: “It was the biggest struggle I’ve had to endure so far… I was in shock, to be honest. Moving to Sydney I had to justify why my name is Barbie and (because I have very light skin for an indigenous person, people asked )… ‘how are you black?’ … That was a challenge in itself.
I had the feeling that I really didn’t belong here, especially at UTS. You have a lot of private school students who end up graduating together. They already know each other, and they’re already in their cliques.”
She later said of her fellow graduates at the end of the course: “Every single one of those graduates [had] family members who [were] accountants, [ran] their own accounting firms, or [were] executives in companies like Qantas. So they [had] sounding boards. I didn’t.”
So much pressure in so many areas of her life.
‘I’ve had opportunities’
Barbie-Lee joined a program called CareerTrackers which helps indigenous students find internships and she achieved a graduate internship with Qantas.
In 2016 she was awarded CareerTracker of the year. At the time Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO, said he thought Barbie-Lee might be the person to succeed him at the top of Qantas. If this occurs, she would be the first indigenous woman to be CEO of a top 100 company.
As Barbie-Lee speaks of her time in rep netball and her internship, she shows us that pressure is a privilege: “I’ve had opportunities growing up that enabled me with different experiences … My peers, however, did not. That’s not to say they weren’t capable. There were people in my class who were smarter than me, that were more driven than me. I just had different experiences.”
Barbie-Lee has thrived under pressure and has grown in her leadership potential and ability. She has continued to thrive and advance at Qantas, sits on an advisory committee for a big law firm and is a director of NASCA – the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy.
She says of the impact of pressure: “The struggle will not be easy. It’s not meant to be easy because it makes strong people who will be equipped to change the world.”
Through the founding of a group called We Pledge, which provides indigenous mentors in various industries, Barbie-Lee has also exercised her servant leadership skills to create strong people.
She says: “It’s really difficult to find a mentor who has experienced what you have experienced, and I think it’s important that as young Indigenous professionals, we know the obligation and responsibility of giving back to our own. It would be so unfortunate if we forget to reach back and help the others out. Not only will we have a gap between us and non-Indigenous people, we’d have a much greater gap between ourselves."
“There are so many times I’ve downplayed myself, for the comfort of other people,” she continues.
“I got to a point where I didn’t feel as though I needed to justify myself anymore. I know who I am, I’m proud of who I am, and the colour of my skin does not define who I am. Your opinion of me does not matter, because my blackness isn’t measured by how you view me … I strive to be the best, don’t we all?”
In the arena
As Teddy Roosevelt said: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
For each person, and especially those who take up leadership positions, each challenge that occurs presents important questions that test our character, our approach to leadership, and ultimately our approach to life.
So, my challenge to all who will be named as leaders today is: Do you dare to engage in the face of pressure? Do you dare to engage because you will see the pressure of leadership as a privilege not a threat?
Pressure is a privilege because it allows us to dare greatly, to accept that we can do more and be more and that we are leaders because this has been recognised by others through the voting and interview process.
We look forward to the opportunity to our students following the example of women like Barbie-Lee Kirby and using their leadership skills to mentor others so that we too might enjoy the privilege of pressure as we dare greatly in the future.