Cr Ashlee Fitzpatrick: A diary of the Advanced Leadership Program

Cr Ashlee Fitzpatrick is a councilor in the city of Wangaratta, and she is also the youngest councilor in Australia. 

We sat down to chat with Ashlee about her participation in the Advanced Leadership Program (ALP).

WLA: So Ashlee, when did you first connect with WLA and decide to do one of their leadership programs?

A: I feel like my connection with WLA really began when I connected with Annie (Annie Stuart, in our Enrolments Team) and started the process of applying to undertake the course. Obviously I had been following WLA online, but the first contact with Annie made me feel really supported and valued. I got a real sense of what the course is going to deliver, the support from other women and the amplification from these new networks.

Annie really helped me with the application process and is the reason I ended up enrolling in the ALP. When she recommended I do that course I was surprised. But then I thought, “You know what, if you're going to do it, do it properly.”

Your first component of the course was participating in the Australian Women’s Leadership Symposium in Melbourne. What was that like?

A: It was so engaging. I managed to cross paths and meet with most of the women in my course, but the highlights were the speakers and also getting to know Suzi Finkelstein, who is one of our facilitators. Seeing her and the speakers up on stage and thinking ‘wow, this is what I will get to be doing in the course’ was so inspiring. I tried to take as many notes as possible so I could refer back to them during the course.

And then it was the week after that you had your first face-to-face workshop for the ALP, wasn’t it?

A: Yeah, it was.  I think at the Symposium we all had so many ‘lollipop moments’ and that’s what we will get throughout the whole course. But it was really rewarding to have the opportunity to really delve into leadership theory with the group after the Symposium, and make connections between what we were learning and the speakers we heard.

The theme was competency traps; looking at what a competency trap could be, identifying them and looking at ways to get out of them. We also talked about passion and purpose, and what our career calling is. It all ties in to strategic leadership.

And for someone who is thinking about doing the course but is maybe a bit nervous, what would your advice be?

A: Everyone is in the same boat as you. They are there for the same reason. At first I thought, “Oh my god, I have no experience, I’m not going to be able to bring anything to the table,” and I was really nervous. But then you get in there and someone will be talking about a challenging situation at work and you can empathise or give them feedback.

You have all these personalities in the room, but everyone is happy and open-minded. We’re also quite vulnerable because we are there to share experiences and bounce ideas off each other. The facilitators and the women create a really comfortable, safe space for us. Everyone is in the same spot as you, they’re all there to learn and make themselves better leaders.

What’s the pace of the course like? Do you find that the webinars and course work are pretty well spaced out?

A: Well I’ve grown up with technology, so I love it. I’m used to online portals so it’s really easy for me. Some of these women, myself included, have really busy diaries, so the flexibility is so important. We can re-watch webinars when we have a break, work through the portal at our own pace and schedule our one-on-one coaching to fit in with our diary.

There’s a timeline for when things need to be done by, but you have all the dates before you even start, so you can schedule time in to get through things. It’s very sustainable and well-paced.

As far as content goes, what have you guys been learning about in the first couple of weeks?

A: One thing that has come up a lot is the difference between leadership and management. I find it really intriguing, especially how they complement each other. It’s not good vs bad; you need to have the skills for one in order to develop the skills for the other.

Another thing we have been looking at is adaptive leadership theory and practice, which is so interesting. You have to be able to adapt as a leader because the world and our workplaces are changing so rapidly these days. All the resources are very relatable and easily applied to real life workplaces and situations, so I am finding them really valuable.

We’ll touch base again as you get closer to the middle of your 12 month course, but in the meantime, what are you looking forward to?

A: I want to keep an open mind at this stage because I don’t want to have too many expectations and then feel disappointed, but I think so many great things are going to happen that I’ll be so grateful for. I’m really excited for those lollipop moments; the network of women I am meeting. Some of them will be friends and mentors for the rest of my life. 

I also think a lot of the things we talk about will be real eye-openers for me, and make me think more deeply about my role, and the kind of leader I want to be as well as the kind of leader my council needs. I am also really excited to be able to think about how I can share what I am learning with my mentees, to facilitate development in them as well. My purpose in life is to empower tomorrow, today, so being able to do that is really important to me. 

More from WLA: 

The Advanced Leadership Program

Suzi Finkelstein: On why amplification is so important

Licia Heath on why we need more women to run for politics