LEADership Lessons: Be true to yourself

Western’s LEAD conference is designed to help students prepare for careers in a changing world – and perhaps even become change makers themselves. Themes explored during the program include finding your authentic voice, leading through change and confidently navigating networking.

John Refalo, Bachelor of Business (Accounting) graduate, spoke on an alumni panel about future work at a LEAD conference attended by current Psychology student Kiara Osborne. Here they reflect on their respective journeys to finding what matters in life.

Mentor: John Refalo, Bachelor of Business (Accounting) 2006

Incolvency Accountant

“If it wasn’t for Western I wouldn’t be where I am today. I really benefited from having lecturers and tutors who had actually worked in the real world. Being a part of LEAD meant I could do the same, giving back to my university by sharing real life experiences with current students, to give them the heads up about what it’s like at work.

While there was a lot of diversity on the panel, I was the only Business graduate there, so I think I could really resonate with students from Law and Accounting especially. I shared my experiences in working for different firms, dealing with all the management styles, and navigating around that while climbing the ranks. One of the challenging questions during our panel was about dealing with difficult managers.

The advice I gave was that you’ve got to be professional in how you behave, though you need to back yourself. If it’s not the right place for you, don’t stay – consider your options and start looking at other opportunities, otherwise it will impact your life outside work.

I’ve found that the better work environments have diversity, especially at the leadership level. When people can really be themselves, they’re happier. It’s also true in networking; learn to listen to other perspectives and be yourself, be genuine.

Something I also encouraged students in the LEAD program to do is to be more active in university life, because it will really benefit you down the track as you continue to network.”

Mentee: Kiara Osborne, Diploma in Arts/Bachelor of Arts

Current student 

“I took a Pathway (course credit) to university because I’d left school quite early and Western really helped me make that transition.

Getting into the LEAD program was empowering for me because it paved the way to new opportunities. I chose the program because I wanted to learn new ways of enhancing my leadership skills and explore different paths where I could learn and grow.

LEAD gave me a lot of opportunities for networking and it was rewarding to hear from people who were accomplishing their goals. Most of their back stories were humbling, which really resonated with me.

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the alumni presenters, and the main take-away was to ‘Stop being hard on yourself; you have all the time in the world to pursue your goals. Just give 100% to the things that matter.’

John Refalo was really open about choosing positive workplaces. He talked about how to handle a toxic workplace and I thought what he said was really powerful, especially coming from someone in his field. He said, ‘Don’t enter a workplace that’s toxic, or at least go in there knowing what you’re in for’. It’s like the saying, ‘Your vibe attracts the tribe’.

I think it’s really important to talk about those things in the workplace and be open about them so that people don’t feel like it’s just them. All of the LEAD alumni panel members inspired me with their can-do attitudes. I know how isolating it can be not to have support, so my goal is to have my own clinical practice because I have a passion for empowering people.

My advice for anyone who feels that university might be out of the picture, is to stay true to yourself – and never be scared of asking questions.”

Lead, Engage, Aspire, Develop (LEAD) is a free leadership program, which gives aspiring student leaders an opportunity to build leadership capacity and interpersonal communication skills to increase their employability through learning from graduate mentors. Find out more at westernsydney.edu.au/lead