Transforming Leadership For the Better

Kurt Towers

Making worthwhile changes in Aboriginal health has always been close to Kurt Towers’ heart, so he jumped at the chance to undertake the Transformative Leadership Program at the University of Adelaide.

The Wiradjuri man, one of nine children born in the rural NSW mining town of Lithgow, grew up seeing the health problems facing First Nations people first-hand.

Towers’ mother was part of the Stolen Generation but managed to break the cycle of disadvantage many fell into to become an Aboriginal mental health worker.

Following her footsteps, Towers carved out a career of more than 18 years in Aboriginal health, first as a substance abuse worker and later working across remote clinics.

Then, Towers took up the role of executive director of Aboriginal Health for the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network nine years ago.

He leads a large diverse multidisciplinary workforce and is responsible for Aboriginal medical services across Adelaide’s northern and western suburbs, covering about 5000 consumers.

He says he was able to make some much-needed improvements. But, he began questioning whether it was enough.

“I felt like I wasn’t ultimately closing the health gap and I carried a lot of obligation of being Aboriginal myself and leading Aboriginal health services and seeing the poor outcomes in some of our mob,” Tower says.

“I started to question whether I was still effective in this role and I became a fixer. I was considered the expert and people would come to me with problems and I felt as though I needed to have all of the answers.”

Towers began to think success didn’t matter and he tolerated failure – creating a downward spiral on his wellbeing.

That started to change when his boss nominated him to undertake the University of Adelaide’s Transformative Leadership Program (TLP) in June 2022.

The fourth-month program helps transform a leader’s thinking and arm them with tools to address complex issues when they arise.

The program covers topics such as immunity to change, evolving as leaders, leading in complexity and neuroleadership. Participants undertake online interactive sessions, assignments and face-to-face intensives from esteemed global leadership experts, educators and also benefit from prominent guest speakers.

The program has also involved guest lecturers such as former prime minister Julia Gillard.

The aim of the program is to help participants become mentally agile, actively collaborating and mindful of others – which led Towers to realise he was part of the problem.

He says through the program he realised he was being a “dictator” who focused more on telling staff what to do, and how to fix things rather than empowering them to solve their work challenges.

He says the program taught him how to listen and work with other leaders, who also had solutions to issues facing the health network.

“Leading any type of health service is quite chaotic and there are lots of things coming in different directions and what I learned through this program was this concept of being on the balcony rather than the dance floor,” Towers says.

“When I’m on the dance floor, I’m in the mess, and it’s quite chaotic. But by taking a mindful step back onto the balcony and having time to reflect and to ask questions and to actually recognise what the challenge and the problem is, it helps you get a different perspective of what’s required.”

Sally Jones, the University of Adelaide’s general manager of Professional and Continuing Education (PACE), says the program transforms participants’ thinking and leadership effectiveness.

“Through the TLP, program participants gain the necessary tools to be the types of leaders who facilitate great and more sustainable change,” she said.

“In addition, they form a close-knit network of executives in diverse leadership roles that they can collaborate with and lean on to support each other as leaders.”Sally Jones, General Manager of PACE

Thanks to the program, Towers now understands he doesn’t need to have all the answers. But he recognises this as a positive rather than a drawcard.

“You have to keep getting off the dance floor and onto the balcony and keep reflecting on the tools you’ve been taught,” he says.


The Transformative Leadership Program

A ground-breaking program designed to develop complex and adaptive thinking capacities in today’s leaders. Transform your thinking and gain new tools for addressing increasingly complex issues.

Find out more

Tagged in Pace article, PACE