Real Life. Real Leadership.

We live in a turbulent world.  More than ever before, people are looking to their leaders to provide clarity and purpose.  Put aside the theory and read on for an insight into the story of an outstanding leader – Gningala Yarran-Mark, Board Director, Water Corporation

Gningala Yarran-Mark is an experienced Board Director with a keen focus on education and Aboriginal health governance. Gningala has a deep understanding of diversity, cultural competencies, change management and stakeholder relationships. After completing her law degree, Gningala moved into commercial roles in large engineering and contracting firms working with BHP Iron Ore, Rio Tinto and more recently, UGL. Gningala was previously on the board of Derbarl Yerrigan Health Services and currently serves on the Water Corporation board.

Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?

Gningala Yarran-Mark: One of the greatest lessons that has stayed with me through life is to have faith in one’s personal capabilities in order to pursue your life’s purpose.  As an Indigenous woman who has led a semi-traditional lifestyle, I grew up watching my parents often fight through negativity to shine. I have never been afraid to shatter a glass ceiling.

A number of my mother’s wise words have also stayed with me through the years. One of her quotes was “sometimes you might need to leave people sitting at the bus stop”. What that requires is to make a choice. In order to pursue or do something for yourself, you may need to make a choice about who gets to occupy your personal space at that time. This takes courage, but it is also necessary if you are to get where you need to go and shine.

She also engrained in me that “Education is the golden key to unlock doors”. Education comes in different forms and enables you to develop capabilities and competencies that become part of who you are. After a Law Degree, I completed a Master of Business Leadership and a Bachelor of Science in Indigenous Research Methodologies in preparedness for a Phd, of which the research focussed on Indigenous Entrepreneurship.

Part of my evolution has also been shaped by taking on roles that challenge me in a different way. While it can be uncomfortable or difficult at times, I have found that being open to change is important. It can enable you to step into opportunities or open new doors. I remember at a particular point in my time as a state prosecutor, it was extremely lonely and very isolating. I felt like I was the only person in the room who looked or thought like me. This can often happen in senior leadership roles. While the perception might have been one of comfort, it was a lonely place to be which can be difficult at times, but that discomfort can still lead to a positive outcome.

Red Emu: You have had experience with significant and complex organisations – how have you created clarity for your teams and the broader organisations?

Gningala Yarran-Mark: The single biggest responsibility is communication. If people have limited information and head off in a particular direction, it can be hard to get traction towards objectives or key performance indicators.

In the workplace, information can sometimes be hoarded and accessible only to a select number of persons. People can feel left out or disconnected from the messaging. I have found that if I am sharing all the knowledge I have, it is easier for everyone on the team to be reading from the same script and that inevitably leads to a far quicker resolution.

We must also be careful not to leave gaps between the spoken and written words – they are equally important. When there are gaps, people are left to make their own assumptions and that leads to mistakes because interpretations will differ within teams.

Effective communication is also about being flexible and being able to modify the style or way we deliver a message in order to meet people where they are at. People are not always in the same mindset. They may have an entirely different history and perspective as the person speaking, or have entered the conversation in a different mental space that day.

I am also conscious of the importance of hearing and listening to the spoken word so we don’t miss factual information and key insights from those we are speaking with or to. I try to check in with questions and look out for non-verbal cues. This is a key to truly engaging in the stakeholder relationship and effectively communicating.

Red Emu: What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off that you have had to make in your leadership journey?

Gningala Yarran-Mark: Time. It is the most precious commodity we are gifted with. There are moments when I will consciously rationalise how I spend my time. We all need to value ourselves enough to appreciate how important our time is to us.

Red Emu: As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started?

Gningala Yarran-Mark: I have arrived in a space where I am appreciating the importance of deep listening. In the Aboriginal world, dadirri is the word given to deep listening. It comes from the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages from the Daly River region, 220 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Dadirri is listening for understanding and clarities sake. For ourselves and those listening to us.

Quite often we listen to reply, as opposed to listening to the fullness of the story or conversation from those relaying the story or information. Dadirri comes from a place of RESPECT, both for self and to the storyteller.

Finding stillness in the chaos is no mean feat. In the stillness and silence is your chance to pause, reflect and focus your energies.

In organisations, Human Capital is a most vital ingredient for building strong functioning teams. I have found deep listening to have a profound impact on how people respond in the moment. It is the most profound lesson and I have increased my interpersonal relationships exponentially.

Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?

Gningala Yarran-Mark: Within organisations I look for opportunities to open doors for people. That might come in the form of connecting people from different backgrounds in order to build technical competencies. Opening doors is about planting a seed, tilling the soil, creating an environment for growth through two way input or reciprocity.

Whether in the workplace or community, key to succession planning is understanding where people are in their journey and creating fertile soil for them to grow.

Personally, I feel it is important to find opportunities for exposure to new things and to participate. I continue to develop by unapologetically acknowledging that I might not know everything, but questioning – what can I learn? What can I do in order to build my knowledge bases and improve my competencies?

There is a rich history behind the Indigenous voice which is important as part of a greater focus on diversity and inclusion. Investing time in developing my leadership style and my approach with those around me is part of a lifelong learning journey.