2022 She Leads In-Conversations Series – 5 Quick Questions with Sarah Burr

27 April 2022

Headshot of Sarah Burr, with her name and the She Leads -Conversation Series logo at the bottom of the tileWe’re excited to host the first She Leads In-Conversation Series of the year with award-winning author and professor Dr Anita Heiss and Sarah Burr.

On Tuesday 24 May, Anita and Sarah will discuss in a conversational format, the importance of empowerment through education and why the stories of First Nations Australians need to be not only told but heard.

In anticipation for the event, we caught up with event facilitator, Sarah Burr, where we asked her five quick questions on leadership, her book and podcast recommendations and what excites her about this In-Conversation.

Sarah Burr is a Wiradjuri yinaa living on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. She is a former Vice President of YWCA Canberra, and currently works for the Commonwealth Government. Sarah has interviewed a number of bestselling Aboriginal authors and writers including Tara June Winch, Veronica Gorrie and Celeste Liddle.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to people who are trying to start their leadership journey but don’t know where to start?

Many people confuse being a leader with “being in charge”, which isn’t necessarily true. Leadership is an action not a delegation. In my view, leadership is demonstrated by people who stand up for what they believe in, treat others respectfully and equitably, and are accountable for the decisions they make.

My advice is to align your leadership style with your values – take time to really consider what these are and what they mean to you – and then employ these values through your management, your communication, your decision-making and your engagement with others. If you follow your values, you will lead others the way you would like to be led and instil a team/organisational culture and direction reflecting these. Your values will also help you make sound decisions and build trust when faced with leadership challenges. When you are guided by strong values, others will recognise your strength of character and turn to you for guidance and direction.

What’s a mistake or failure that you have made but in hindsight made you a better leader?

I can be quite protective of the people I lead and in the past this meant I often stepped in to fix things rather than expose my teams to difficult situations. I originally thought that intervening and clearing the path of all obstacles was the right approach as it enabled work to be streamlined and staff to progress tasks without disruptions but in hindsight I can see this caused me to be overworked and frustrated as I hadn’t empowered my staff to pre-empt or deal with issues that would impact them and others. Now, while I still protect my teams from external harms, I ensure they are supported to learn and grow through being responsible for their own problem-solving, critical thinking, and proactive effort.

What would you like to see change in the next 3-5 years in the leadership space?

I would like to see progress towards more accountable leadership whereby leaders take responsibility for the results of their decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us many leaders across different sectors and spaces act in ways that are beneficial to themselves but not to others. If society is to enjoy a safe and prosperous future, that type of self-centred leadership cannot continue.

There is a role for accountable leaders to use the next few years to demonstrate more considerate and responsive leadership styles – we are well past the time of the stale-pale-male status quo, the lean-in girl boss, and woke tokenism. Instead, it is a time for leadership to demonstrate respect to those they are making decisions for and about, be alert to the impacts of their decisions, and be receptive to feedback. I hope this sense of accountability will then empower a succession of new leadership that better reflects society and meets our needs now and into the future.

Which leadership or empowerment books and/or podcasts would you recommend to people?

I recently read Sister Girl by Dr Jackie Huggins and highly recommend this collection of works for anyone exploring the nuances and complexity of identity, Aboriginal feminism (Tiddaism), reconciliation and leadership. Jackie’s intellect and judgement are so strong and informed by her cultural strength, leadership and values. I love how she subverts colonial systems by challenging the standards the mainstream has set for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (especially women) and how she interrogates these assumptions and actively decolonises through her Tiddaism. In that vein, I know a huge Black feminist inspiration to Jackie was bell hooks. On the passing of bell hooks in December 2021, I returned to some of her key works to re-read the concepts she brought to audiences over many decades. It is powerful to see how her message of resistance to patriarchy, colonisation and ignorance can be translated from an African American experience to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context.

I’m an inconsistent podcast listener, but I did recently enjoy some episodes of the Future Women podcast. However, my all-time favourite podcast is Margin Notes co-hosted by Zoya Patel and Yen Eriksen, two amazing Canberrans who speak on diversity of identity and reflect on their experiences in their literary careers!

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to hearing Dr Anita Heiss talk about in your upcoming She Leads In-Conversation?

I wish we could conduct the whole interview in Wiradjuri language! I really look forward to hearing Dr Anita Heiss speak on reclaiming language, referencing key cultural principles in literature, and how she has forged her path in the literary world. I would also like to hear about Anita’s leadership values and how she expresses these in different environments in the literary sector, on boards, and with family and community.

Anita has such a varied catalogue of literature, all of which has a very strong current running through of her pride in being a fierce and deadly Wiradjuri yinaa. I’d love to hear how she brings so many ideas to life through words, and how these narratives relate to her own experiences. Anita is also a marathoner so I would like to hear how her writing and running complement each other!


Stay tuned! We’ll be posting new content every week about the She Leads In-Conversation Series with Dr Anita Heiss and Sarah Burr.

Visit the event page for more information.

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