Dr Alice Chang on The Age of the God-CEO is Over- 2015 John Monash Oration

Dr Alice Chang, 2008 John Monash Scholar 

2015 John Monash Oration: The Age of the God CEO is Over
28 July 2015, Commonwealth Bank Colonial Theatre
Hosted by Ms Kelly Bayer Rosmarin of CBA

Thank you to the General Sir John Monash Foundation for the opportunity to speak to so many distinguished guests today. What I will speak on today has many similarities with Mr Goyder’s take on leadership.

I was quite intimidated when I was asked to be the support act for Mr Goyder, and how many Very Important People have gathered here today.

To relieve my anxiety, I have been telling myself, that I am just the advertising for the General Sir John Monash Scholarships. You have seen the main act already, so this can’t go too wrong.

With so many industry and community leaders in the room, I am sure there is not much about leadership, or being God, that I can impart today, that is not already known. I am just a humble Child Psychiatrist from Far North Queensland.

I may be of some use, however, if there is a medical event here tonight, but please, don’t let it be really serious – I am better at patching up your wounded feelings, than your failing heart.

The theme for today is leadership. This has prompted my reflection about my own leadership experiences, and share what leadership looks like, as the doctor, and team leader, of a child and youth mental health service, in rural and remote Queensland.

I work as a Child Psychiatrist in Far North Queensland, covering Cairns up to the Torres Strait, working with Indigenous communities such as Yarrabah, Pormporaw, Cooktown, Hopevale, Kowanyama and Wujilwujil.  I look after children age from zero to 18, in some of the most impoverished and remote parts of Australia. Every day, I am grateful for work that help change the lives of young people, and be able to make a difference, to families and communities in regional and rural Australia.

I lecture at the University of Queensland and James Cook University, growing the next generation of respectful and compassionate doctors.

I lead a team of dedicated professionals: nurses, doctors, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and social workers, to provide multidisciplinary care.

Being one of the few Subspecialists in Far North Queensland, my role is working with the community to promote better health outcomes. This is very important for Far North Queensland, where disasters, on a big scale, are never too far away: floods, cyclones and even the odd café explosions. We work closely with churches, schools, non government organisations, police, even the local ABC and community radio stations, where I do a regular health information segment in English and Mandarin.

Like many people, I was placed in a leadership role through my work. I have no special training in how to become a leader. I have learnt what leadership style works for me, by trial and error, and from the opportunities I have had in life. As Young Australian of the Year, and Young Queenslander of the year, and later having won the General Sir John Monash Scholarship and Gates Cambridge Scholarship, to study at Cambridge University- I have had the privileged to meet, and learn from world leaders, from the Barrack Obama to Bill Gates. They are often the most down to earth, un-God like people that commands respect by what they do. Much like Mr Goyder here.

Medicine is notorious for its hierarchy, and I have experienced first hand what it is like to be on the receiving end of a God like leader. They call themselves “Surgeons” back in the day, and thankfully the culture is changing. I knew from first year medical school that it is not my style. My style is treating people from all walks of life, with respect, be it in the emergency department or crisis housing, earn their trust, and play a part in their treatment and recovery. That’s probably why I have chosen psychiatry as a specialty.

My earliest leadership lessons are learnt from various volunteer medical trips to Africa, India, rural China, East Timor, Indonesia, Kirribati and rural Australia.

I will never forget working at an Indian fishing village after the Tsunami, when most of the fishermen have lost their family and their entire livelihood, facing crippling injuries. The fishermen remained stoic and positive, walking along the debris filled coastline salvaging nets and helping each other.

I will never forget working in Zimbabwe at an AIDS orphanage, with children who contracted AIDS at birth, facing death daily, but have the most angelic smiles and the capacity to pray for me and others suffering around them.

I will never forget the tears of an Indigenous girl, who has suffered a lifetime of abuse, neglect and bullying, bravely seeking a better future for herself, seeking to protect her siblings from a similar fate.

I have always known that being a doctor is not about playing God or being God, it is about relieving physical and emotional pain, it is about being with. For the greatest panacea for suffering is not analgesia, but being understood and heard. It is about being human.

My greatest lessons in leadership had been about good communication and having a good team working with you. For the indigenous communities I work with, taking the time to hear their story, and getting my head around the vast kinship links, the spiritual and cultural beliefs, are just as important as getting the medical history.

How do you deal with a traumatized Indigenous community after a mother has killed her children, leaving behind devastated neighbours, friends, school mates, and family members?

How do you deal with a traumatized school when a bullied 15 year old boy committed suicide by jumping off a 3 storey building, witnessed by other students?

How do you educate the police, ambulance and emergency department about a girl presenting to hospital daily, for deliberate self-harm and eating disorder behaviours, with a background of severe trauma and childhood physical and emotional abuse?

How do you get the attention of Department of child safety about a severely neglected 18month old baby?

Leadership on this scale means looking after the team who work alongside me, and having families and community that trust and support me. This, is my definition of achieving effective leadership.

For the distinguished guests here today, ask yourselves, what imprints are you leaving in the lives of the people you lead? Your position as an industry leader, and your sphere of influence, give you unique status and responsibilities. You are the leaders of Australia and what you believe and do has an enormous impact. It is both a privilege and responsibility.

You can use your position, your influence and status to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice, chose to identify with the powerless. You have the ability to change and influence lives. You can nurture and develop those you lead, and bring up the next generation of Nation Builders.

So today, even if you remember not a single word of mine, I hope you remember a saying by Ghandi:

You must be the change you wish to see in the world


Your invitation to become involved:

This year, we are building on our success and raising funds to support scholarships in perpetuity. While our corporate support will contribute to annual scholarships, our philanthropic support will help to build an endowment fund for the future. Please consider joining us in this important nation-building initiative, to ensure that we continue to expand the horizons of our brightest young people and invest in the future of our community.

To make a donation, please view our gift form available here. Please return the form to Ms Renata Bernarde, CEO, General Sir John Monash Foundation. If you would like to discuss further how to become involved, please contact Renata Bernarde.

renata.bernarde@johnmonash.com / 03 9620 2428