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The leadership journey of a young water professional

Leadership is a mosaic of experiences and moments in our lives. We asked Courtney Brown, the new Chair of the Queensland Young Water Professionals Committee, to share her journey with us.

Describe your leadership journey to date – where did it start, where has it gone and how has it changed along the way?

Leadership for me probably started when I submitted an opinion piece to my national newspaper, the Post Courier, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I think I was 11 or 12 years old. I wrote a few lines about the absolute faith I had in my generation to incite change and make the country a better place, regardless of what challenges lay ahead or what others might say. Once I saw my words published in the newspaper, this became my first act of self-accountability that made me think, “Okay, now I somehow have to live up to what I’ve said!”  

In my final years of boarding school, when I was 17, I was elected as a Prefect despite balancing on the precipice of many of my teachers’ vast canyons of tolerance. I remember sitting in the Deputy Principal’s office and being told that my Prefect status should be taken seriously, and that I was responsible for what kind of role model I was going to be. 

This journey was significant; I was given invaluable opportunities to develop my character as a leader. Growing up away from my parents also solidified my independence and identity outside the home early (and probably saved my parents a world of pain!).  

My leadership journey throughout my university years and career to date has been a combination of following my gut instinct, reading a lot, using physical activities to keep me sane, being curious about everything, saying yes to odd opportunities without knowing the outcomes, relentlessly making mistakes, ensuring I have a creative outlet, remembering where I come from, and surrounding myself with people who love me for who I am and who speak truth (the good, the bad and the ugly) in my life.   

Nowadays my relationship with my Maker is the backbone to everything else in my life, especially my ever-evolving leadership journey 

Growing up, who or what did you draw leadership inspiration from?

I followed my dad around a lot when I was a kid and ended up learning a lot just from watching him. My mum constantly challenges me to be the best I can be (like iron sharpening iron!). My teachers in PNG were so gifted at bringing out the best in us as students, I feel like I had the best start in life.

When I was at boarding school, the Principal came for dinner one night. I was standing next to him in the line for dessert and asked him what he had wanted to do when he finished school. He said he had no idea and that it was okay to not have everything figured out at any point in your life.

My first year out of university was spent on a project with a geotechnical driller who was a few years younger than me. I watched him walk into a foggy field of kangaroos early one morning before we started a job. He taught me that being curious is not a crime; that there is always time to stop what you’re doing to find out more about the world around you.

Courtney Brown, Chair AWA QLD Young Water Professionals Committee, Trade Waste Officer, Queensland Urban UtilitiesI also watched a lot of cartoons as a kid. I loved Popeye who could always overthrow big ol’ Sindbad the Sailor; Jerry the mouse who could always outsmart Tom the cat; Mulan, who smashed the premise that she could never bring her family honour; and a movie where Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan taught me that there is no ‘secret stuff’, you just have to believe in yourself.

What does leadership look like to you?

Leadership to me looks like putting others above yourself by the simple act of caring about those around you. Obviously, introspection and self-awareness are very valuable tools to constantly refine oneself. But intentionally and genuinely investing in the journey of others yields tangible dividends for everyone involved, not just yourself.

Affirmation is also a big deal for us as humans, so I would challenge each person to find their source of ‘non-human-centric’ affirmation. For example, if I know I am affirmed by my Maker, then I can easily invest in and care for others around me, without being at the mercy of things like ‘offence’, which I think is growing at an unnecessary rate.

What has challenged you the most along your leadership journey and how did you adapt?

Patience has always been my greatest challenge in life. When someone constantly feels as though they are destined for far more than their current situation, they never feel satisfied with life in the present moment. I’ve come to realise through my faith that my only calling (or only pathway to my calling) at this very moment in time is to take care of whatever has been placed in my hands to the best of my ability.

Whatever situation I am in, I need to do my best and be my best, to the best of my ability – not to be mistaken with perfection. When I acknowledge this and give it everything I’ve got, then can I progress to the next level. 

What message would you like to give to your friends and colleagues interested in volunteering for the AWA or beyond?

Volunteering is a good mix of challenge and reward. What you pour in it is what you get back. The water industry is one of the oldest and most crucial in the world. There is no question of what value you are giving back to the world when you are part of an association such as this.  

I can 100% guarantee, without a morsel of doubt, that every single human has individual gifts and talents that can be used for the greater good of the water industry. By connecting with the wider industry through the AWA, there is no limit to what you can do.   

Are you a young water professional? Click here to see how you can get involved with the Australian Water Association.