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Leadership requires an adaptive approach

28 June 2019

5 minute read

2019 06 27

Vice Admiral Ray Griggs | Photo: PM&C

Having served for Australia in a range of leadership roles such as the Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force and Chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs has amassed rich experience on leadership.

In a candid interview, the former senior officer who is now the Commonwealth’s Associate Secretary for Indigenous Affairs, shares his insight on organisational leadership, the promise of the newly formed National Indigenous Australians Agency, and how his experience at ANU helped him with cross-cultural management.

Q. The ascendancy of the Indian Ocean Region has become a salient matter in Australian strategic thinking. Having spent four decades with the Royal Australian Navy, how do you assess this line of thinking?

To be frank Australia's strategic thinking around the Indian Ocean has been a little stop start. The average Australian thinks of us as a Pacific facing country rather than an Indian Ocean facing nation. Accordingly, this rationale has translated into much of our strategic thinking.

We face three major oceans. However, the Indian Ocean is the most crucial of the lot as it enhances our ability to trade, which is vital to our national interest. With the rise of India and the global strategic importance given to the Indian Ocean for its maritime trading systems, the region is finally getting the strategic attention it deserves. The region has a number of key shipping choke points, which can have either a strategic influence or a vulnerable effect. The Bab El Mandeb, The Straits of Hormuz, the southern tip of Sri Lanka and the Malacca Straits to name a few.

NIAA helps our engagement not only with Indigenous Australia but also with State and Territory Governments to improve outcomes.

Q. The Indigenous Affairs Group has become the National Indigenous Australians Agency. How do you perceive this transition to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians?

The establishment of the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) is a tremendous opportunity, as it will give us enhanced autonomy. More importantly, the capacity for us to work across the Government, to ensure that there is a coherent and comprehensive approach to deliver the Government’s agenda for Indigenous Australians.

Crucially, we will stay in the heart of Government in the Prime Minister’s portfolio. This helps in our engagement not only with Indigenous Australia but also with State and Territory Governments to improve outcomes.

The establishment of the agency, combined with the appointment of the first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians, is an exciting time surrounded by high expectations.

Image2 Anzac

Vice Admiral Ray Griggs | Photo: Department of Defence

Q. In what ways were you able to adapt your range of leadership and organisational skills in the Navy to your current role as Associate Secretary for Indigenous Affairs?

Organisations have different purposes but they are all human systems, which need to be led and organised. The organisational transition for me has been easier than I thought. Leadership requires an adaptive approach in any field and I have drawn from my experience to assess the best ways to lead in my new role.

I have some wonderful Indigenous and non-Indigenous people working with me, along with some tremendous stakeholders to help navigate through this new role. When transitioning into a new environment if you are not learning new things everyday then you are probably not doing it right.

My time at ANU gave me confidence. One of the biggest impacts for me was in resource management where those fundamental business skills came to the fore as I moved into positions that were more senior.

Q. You had graduated from ANU with an MBA. In what ways do you feel your experience at ANU could be linked to your success?

I realised that after 20 years in the workforce, I had already been doing much of what I learnt through my MBA program. There is no doubt that I looked at a number of things in a different way after the course I studied and gained new skills to apply. My time at ANU gave me confidence. One of the biggest impacts for me was in resource management where those fundamental business skills came to the fore .

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