AGSM | Forging new pathways for future Indigenous leaders

A proud Yamatji-Nyoongar man from Western Australia, Denzyl Moncrieff has always been a natural leader. Someone who isn’t afraid to step up to address unspoken issues – whether in his community, or in a meeting room with senior managers.

His drive and passion led him to become the first Indigenous male to complete a Bachelor of Science (Applied Geology) at Curtin University of Technology, and then take on a professional role with the Exploration Team at Rio Tinto. When he saw the opportunity to further his leadership skills with AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program (EIELP) he was quick to seize it.

“I have always felt quite alone in my career because of the extremely low number of Indigenous professionals in my industry,” Moncrieff says. “This was the first time I was surrounded by other Indigenous professionals I could relate to.”

Bringing high-potential leaders together

Moncrieff is highly ambitious, something he shared with the 25 participants who enrolled in the unique program in 2019. The AGSM EIELP equips those seeking strategic leadership capabilities to progress from middle management into senior leadership roles. It also provides a supportive network of like-minded leaders – people with similar experiences and stories.

Moncrieff says building strong friendships with his cohort was one the most valuable aspects of the program. “To sit with other successful Indigenous people, some senior leaders and some who had never had university education was incredible. We became like a family, and we still are. When one of us achieves something, it means a lot.”

With the program now in its fourth year, Academic Director Mark Rose says the impact on participants has been profound.

“Every day, we hear stories of people who have stepped up and had the confidence to go to the next level. Seeing others who face the same cultural tensions, and using management and executive development platforms to overcome them, can be a very bonding and motivating experience.”

Walking in two worlds

The EIELP uniquely combines Western executive education frameworks with Indigenous philosophies. “Business in the West has long been predicated on transactions, but Indigenous people – who have managed the world’s largest estate for at least 60,000 years – build relationships. By working at this intersection, we give participants a chance to be comfortable and in tune with the ancestral mandate they carry,” explains Professor Rose.

The program consists of online coursework and five face-to-face sessions across nine months, as well as completing a challenge project that brings change to their organisation. The face-to-face sessions are held in Sydney and Uluru. On completion, EIELP participants receive an AGSM Certificate of Executive Development, which also provides two subject credits to AGSM’s part-time MBA program.

Moncrieff says this aspect of the program was more relaxed than he expected, especially compared with his more technical Bachelor degree. “It might involve a few hours just yarning. That’s our culture and our people, that’s how we learn. It was tailored perfectly.”

He also appreciated the ability to study in his own time. “Since it took less than a year to complete and some of the content was online, I could gain a qualification without having to sacrifice my work or social life.”

Moncrieff applied these new analytical frameworks immediately during his meetings with senior managers. “For example, I found the approach to complex problem solving in the corporate world very useful. It was more aligned with the way my scientific-brain likes to learn,” he adds.

Learning from setbacks was another important aspect of the program for Moncrieff. “My challenge project was to achieve greater retention and development of Indigenous people in my department,” he explains. “We have gained some ground here, but there is still a long way to go. I learned a lot about myself as a leader by navigating those roadblocks.”

Creating change through opportunity

Professor Rose believes EIELP¬¬, which was established in partnership with the Elevate RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) Working Group, is doing “nation-setting work.”

“When one group is disadvantaged, we are all disadvantaged. When these participants join the program, having got here thr¬ough their own talents, I see them creating a jet stream that will bring more along with them.”

For Moncrieff, his EIELP project is just the beginning. He is keen to see more Indigenous representation in senior management roles – at Rio Tinto, and across Australia’s corporate sector. “I want this for my community and my people,” he says.

“Although there has been a lot of work in the Indigenous employment space, there is still a lack of Aboriginal people in management positions. If we can develop our leadership skills and capability, we have a better chance of being promoted – and influencing businesses and the Aboriginal community to follow a similar path.

“Then we can really start to normalise Aboriginal excellence.”

Applications for the EIELP are now open and close on 20 March 2020.