“It was a massive privilege to spend a year with the 2012 cohort."
For Rebecca Tomkinson, CEO of Royal Flying Doctor Service WA (RFDSWA), community has always been important to consider in leadership roles.
“I’m a country girl from the Wheatbelt, so I’ve always had an important connection to the community,” she said.
“I’ve always been interested in how communities work and how we invest in our civil society. I was involved in groups like the local PCYC, the netball club and community organisations which all shape the communities we live in.”
Rebecca’s connection to community led her to study community development at university, learning about community capacity building and how individuals can come together to improve the lives of those around them.
Since then, she has worked with communities at all levels of government and the corporate sector.
Despite the differences between communities at the local versus federal government level, Rebecca sees the commonalities.
“Strong communities are all underpinned by a healthy government and business sector,” she said
“All communities have different stakeholders who can bring valuable viewpoints to address issues and opportunities. All those viewpoints can collectively lead to a great outcome. You need all of those voices to come together.”
By taking different community voices into account, Rebecca believes leadership can be more dynamic and adaptable. As she explains, this approach was exemplified by the role of Australia’s National Cabinet during the COVID-19 crisis.
“In recent times, we’ve never seen anything like a global pandemic, so our leaders had to adapt their leadership style,” she said.
“This adaptability will be particularly important for the next generation because we are facing new challenges like achieving equity for First Nations peoples and confronting the reality of climate change.”
From the perspective of the RFDS in WA, this means embracing change and technology.
“Technology, community, business and our lifestyles are evolving at a rate that we’ve never seen before,” she said.
“For the RFDS, that means embracing new healthcare technology, learning new skills and adapting to provide the best possible care for our patients.”
Rebecca believes that Western Australians have a proven track record when it comes to embracing new technology. This is demonstrated by the history of her own organisation.
“At RFDS, we don’t send a band-aid, we send an aircraft to the most remote places in the world to deliver excellent clinical care. Only in Australia would we think that is possible,” she said.
We asked Rebecca what she believed were the most important attributes of a leader.
“You have to have a sense of humour, and be able to hear all of the voices at the table. We’re at our very best when we come together to solve a problem,” she said.
“True leadership is about capacity building, enabling others to be the very best they can be.
As the CEO of an organisation that delivers world-class services to some of the most remote places on earth, Rebecca is no stranger to dealing with challenges of all scale and sizes.
“When dealing with a challenge, you need to first appreciate that you’re not on your own. I have an amazing team around me,” she said.
“Understanding that allows you to break down a problem and look at it piece by piece.
“Doing so means you’re not overwhelmed, and that you can find the best possible way to address that challenge.”
Rebecca is a graduate of the 2012 Signature Leadership Program and was named Leadership WA’s 2020 Distinguished Fellow.
“During my time with LWA I saw parts of Western Australia that even I, as a country kid, hadn’t experienced,” she said.
“It was a massive privilege to spend a year with the 2012 cohort. There were plenty of uncomfortable, candid moments, but the opportunities are just remarkable.
“You spend a year understanding how you fit into the world, how others see you, and other people’s perspectives.”
“Now, even years later, there are 32 people who will answer the call whenever I pick up the phone, whenever I need to ask for advice or get feedback on an idea. That is priceless.”