Leadership

The science of maintaining professional momentum

If there's one thing Suzanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia has learned throughout her career, it's that every new venture has its own risks. But starting is often the most challenging step, as she shared on Future Women's Leadership Series podcast recently.

By Eden Timbery

Leadership

If there's one thing Suzanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia has learned throughout her career, it's that every new venture has its own risks. But starting is often the most challenging step, as she shared on Future Women's Leadership Series podcast recently.

By Eden Timbery

Can Newton’s first law of motion (quick Google: inertia) serve as a blueprint for growth and development in professional practice?

It might sound outlandish to suggest a basic law of physics – that things have a tendency to remain unchanged – could help manage workplaces, but for CEO of Plan International Australia Susanne Legena, it works.

‘I see a lot of my role as harvesting these small sparks of joy, of gratitude, of selflessness… and then blowing air on it like a flame to keep it growing,’ she shared with Future Women Leadership Series host Helen McCabe.

Plan International works to tackle the root causes of poverty and discrimination, with a particular focus on improving the lives of young girls across the globe.

Working in an emotionally demanding field can be taxing, with studies showing that those participating in humanitarian relief work experience increased rates of trauma-related mental illnesses. As Legena put it, managing the mental load has only become more difficult since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Children are out of school in record numbers, and we know from previous crises that many of those children, especially girls, will never return,’ she said. 

‘I’m seeing a setback in girls’ education, and some of the things we were working on like ending child marriage, working against the practice of female genital mutilation, being set back by generations.’

Fortunately, Legena’s experience proves that sometimes all you need to reach a goal is a little momentum.

‘It’s like a tapestry, and it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the injustice of the world,’ she said of sustaining morale in trying times. 

‘If you think about it, if you’re pulling on one of the threads, you’re helping unravel the whole cloth.’

Taking small consistent steps was the most important behaviour to encourage in herself and others when chasing down a long-term goal, Legena found. Especially in the face of failure.

For Legena, learning to embrace change was one of her most difficult and rewarding challenges to date, and borne of a key mistake she made on her path to become a leader. 

‘I kept trying to find an equilibrium that doesn’t exist, and that has caused me a lot of pain,’ she said. But in spite of the struggle, she came to understand that simply making a start was the key to growth and progress.

‘I try not to be perfectionistic about this because I know that we will fail and try again.’

‘We have to be a model, a mirror, and a magnet for the kind of world we want to see.’

So while it can be difficult to get the ball rolling, Legena explained, momentum keeps it going once you start.

Offering a final piece of advice to anyone striving to make change, Legena said that the easiest way to begin is to figure out what you can do on an individual level, and fully commit to that action.

‘We have to do what we can where we can,’ Legena urged. 

‘We have to be a model, a mirror, and a magnet for the kind of world we want to see.’

Missed this episode of the Future Women Leadership Series Podcast? Catch up here, or wherever you listen to podcasts.