The One-Legged Sax Player on Leadership

Hi, I am 49 years old and I have been working since I was 15. I am married and have 2 grown twins.

My first job was a Junior Musician in the Royal Australian Navy. I served from 1984 to 1993. After this service, I came back to WA and before going back to University at 30 years old I had 13 different jobs.

I graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz in 2005.

I have run a successful music school with my wife of 30 years and also a disability support agency.

In 2010, I was diagnosed with Osteomyelitis in my left foot. Over the next 5 years I fought with daily pain and many trips to hospital for operations and antibiotics. In July of 2014 I decided that the best way forward for me was to explore the opportunity for a below knee amputation and in February 2015 I had the operation done.

My leadership journey is quite different. I feel that even though I have been working for so many years I hadn’t really explored my leadership potential.

In April 2015, I applied for the LeadAbility Course run by Leadership Western Australia. This entry level leadership course was designed for people with disabilities and those that work in the disability sector. This course opened my eyes to what I could become and assisted me to clarify what I want to do.

At the conclusion of the course I went to the CEO, Robin McClellan, and basically said to her, “Put your money where your mouth is and employ me in the organisation.” From there a position of LeadAbility Experience Coordinator was created and I was employed to do that work. Considering my background, I had almost no experience in HR Administration, so I was on a massive learning journey.

I finished my contract with Leadership Western Australia in November 2017.

But in March 2017, I gained a place on the Rising Leadership Program. This program stretched me even further as I was working with people who had been in leadership previously, some for many years and I felt very out of my depth. Anyway, I completed the course and graduated at the end of August. I am now part of the Leadership Western Australia Alumni, which gives me access to their Skillsbank and continuing and further education.

I have a new business called “Lose the Awkward” This business is about Disability Access and Inclusion and how to deal with those awkward situations and conversations that seem to follow those of us with disabilities. I am also Vice Chair of the Committee of Management of People with Disabilities WA and Board Member of Diverse Leaders Inc.

So…some lessons I have learned.

1. Go for it! If it is something you feel that you want to have a go at, DO IT! Find an organisation that you can tap in to. Research them and then approach them. Don’t be put off by the little voice in your head saying “I’m not educated enough, not smart enough, no experience, I have a disability… If you are passionate about your subject and knowledge, you will find a place that will welcome it.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You all know the old saying, “If you don’t ask you don’t get”

3. Surround yourself with people. Organisations and businesses are run by people. When I say people, I recommend people who will not only support you in your leadership journey and aspirations, but people who will help you to grow as a leader and as a person. I continually seek out people who will challenge me, be it in music, business or education. You will be surprised of the amount of guidance you can get if you use Point 2.

4. Get out there. You cannot develop as a leader in your bedroom. Get involved with your community, local business associations, Rotary, Toastmasters, anything that will get you out of your day to day routine and expand your social and professional networks. People have to get to know you and you have to get to know them.

5. This one is my favourite. Be yourself. You’re a unique individual. You bring to the table things, lessons, experiences, that only you have had. No-one has walked your walk and no-one will, but they can learn from you and you can learn from them. Be open, be honest and be yourself.

The leadership journey can be hard, it is challenging, and it is sometimes very demoralising, BUT, it is also rewarding both personally and professionally.

Andrew Fairbairn
Girrawheen, WA

Andrew is married with 2 grown children and is currently employed by People with Disabilities Western Australia as Field Diversity Officer. He is an avid Jazz lover and performs regularly with his wife, Kaye, as a high-tech Duo “2 or More” and is music director of a 7 piece jazz ensemble “Cafe Jazz

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