I was fortunate to attend the CEO Institute summit in Perth where the subject of the day was leading through adversity. The first speaker up on stage was Rebecca Tomkinson, CEO of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Western Australia. This service provides first class medical care to remote communities across WA. It is a complex organisation, as it spans both aviation and health care, two highly regulated industries with complex operating models. In WA there are an average of 32 daily flights sent out into the regions to assist people with emergency or severe medical needs. It is funded by both the Commonwealth and State Government, as well as donations and corporate sponsorship.


Rebecca's talk was clearly one of a heartfelt passion for helping rural communities, having grown up in the ‘bush’.   Rebecca covered five key attributes; she sees as being critical for leading through adversity:


  1. Being comfortable with change and uncertainty.  This means having skills and attributes which enable your organisation and your people to be flexible when challenging situations arrived such as the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a matter of hours, the team had to create new protocols for the treatment & management of patients.
  2. A rock-solid purpose.  This is what holds the organisation together during tough times a sense of can-do attitude and to be there when a mate needs you.  As a leader when times are hard, this connexion with purpose is absolutely critical to keep the team focused on delivering to the people that need the service.
  3. Resilience and how this is very much about who you are.  Rebecca and her connexion with the land growing up as a country kid, has influenced how she leads and manages change. post op she believes that the recognition and coming from a former community background has helped her in her leadership role with the Royal flying doctor service and influenced her leadership style
  4. Know yourself.  Delivering on purpose and leading organisations through tough times you need to be self-aware.  Know what motivates you.  At the core Rebecca's said she has a strong desire to help rural.  Leadership is all about people and teams.  Rebecca described her role as like a conductor of an orchestra.  She doesn’t need to be able to know how to play all the instruments, but her ability to bring them together so they can create magical sounds, is her job.   Be clear on what your personal value proposition is really important as a leader.
  5. Evolution and innovation.  In 2019, The Royal Flying Doctor Service was awarded the WA technology company of the year for its innovation in bringing lifesaving technology to the air.  Innovation takes courage.  Rebecca acknowledged that as a leader she is fallible, and does not have all the answers, she asks her team to help solve problems by applying ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.


When asked what the biggest challenge was around leadership today, Rebecca said it was the constant change and uncertainty.  She emphasised the importance of building resilience, to problem solve by apply new ways of thinking and new disciplines, to come up with novel solutions.  Collaboration makes the difference.


As a leader you need to be comfortable with change.  The RFDS is on a journey over the next 10 years to create a culture which supports & enables the organisation to thrive well into the future.  This journey includes coaching for herself and her leadership team and other members of the organisation to develop the capacity of all the people. 


This was just the start of the day.  Follow me here on LinkedIn to make sure you see the next post about the leadership journey of David Carter, CEO Austral Fisheries.

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