For the CEO of Lifeline ACT Carrie-Ann Leeson, it’s fair to say it’s been a year more challenging than most.
The organisation she heads experienced record demand as people struggled with the mental health challenges of extended lockdowns and periods of isolation and uncertainty.
Along with the challenges of COVID-19, Carrie-Ann was far away from her family in South Africa as the country struggled through a crisis of a different kind.
But she found the beauty in it all – especially spending more time with her sons.
Ms Leeson shares her reflections on the year with Region Media.
The moment that defined the year: Undoubtedly, it was the moment we realised COVID-19 could not be contained and we were “going to need a bigger boat”.
The biggest lesson I learnt: I learnt to draw on the power of community. I realised we are all capable of seeing the gift or opportunity in many cases.
While many were struggling, I noticed others were doing a fantastic job of maintaining their own emotional and physical wellbeing.
I gathered these individuals together (virtually of course) and worked with them to design ‘road maps’ for others to draw upon.
I found myself shifting from denial to acceptance with each day’s changes. There was just no time to dwell on the cost of restrictions, so my focus narrowed to my sons and to supporting my teams through the exhausting and continuous operational course corrections.
What 2021 taught me about leadership: I learnt there is a significant difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Daily data, case numbers and measurements were being pushed out by the government 24/7, and this fuelled the feelings of uncertainty, fear and helplessness. With so much information coming down the line at us, where was the wisdom?
During this time, I think I was placed in positions requiring every possible leadership style during this time, I adopted the ones that would continue to foster trust and action.
The highlight of the year: Despite it all, there were many moments of joy for me personally and professionally as babies continued to arrive, weddings occurred, relationships formed and strengthened.
Watching my children navigate the changes was very special. Their view of the world helped me to reframe my own thinking about many aspects of this period.
Getting to spend more time with them than I otherwise would was the best gift.
The hardest thing that happened this year: Along with all the challenges of the pandemic, the hardest was not being in a position to travel to help my loved ones at a time they needed it most.
My family live in South Africa, a country facing immense social, political, economic and emotional pressures, which culminated in a week of rioting and violence in my family’s hometown in KZN.
Despite this being hardly covered by the media, I watched friends and family fight to protect themselves and their loved ones and this was simply terrifying.
Something I’m proud of: My team.
More than 800 incredible individuals gave their time to be there for others throughout the pandemic.
Throughout, I would often refer to the fact we are ‘all living a Lifeline call’ at the moment and these people were able to experience a crisis directly, and still come into the centre and take calls from others in similar situations.
It was incredible to witness.
What I wish I did differently: There are many things I would do differently, but I haven’t yet had time to reflect on my decisions, actions and behaviours as a leader. I do look forward to the growth that will come from this future reflection.
Lifeline is still, however, in the throes of the largest mental health response ever seen and we remain focused on that.
My New Year’s Eve resolution: To work towards my ‘true north’ – where my head, heart and gut align.
What to expect from 2022: I hope that I have the strength and enthusiasm to tackle any challenges, and to see the beauty and joy in each new experience.
I will of course be ensuring I see my family again and hitting the skies to make up for lost travel time.