Chris Lacey: A deeper understanding of intention and purpose

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Chris Lacey, CEO of the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI) reflects on his Sydney Leadership experience, key learnings and the impact it has had on his career.

When asked how Sydney Leadership changed him as a leader, Chris says: “There are a couple of big themes for me. The first one is linked to ‘intention’. As a deeply reflective experience, the Sydney Leadership program helped develop my understanding of the importance of checking-in and reconnecting with the question of ‘why’ rather than only ‘how’ systems work in the way that they do. Too often in my previous leadership roles, I had been focussed to find ‘the fix’ to an immediate problem and move on to the next one without looking at the bigger picture”.

Chris says the Sydney Leadership program helped him clarify that, while time can be of the essence in leadership roles, it is really the long game that matters in working to advance debates around complex and multidisciplinary issues. And that means establishing a deeper understanding of intention and purpose in everything we do. 

“The second, related theme for me was about working across difference and the importance of taking the time to listen to all the perspectives and being less partisan in our approach. The importance of taking the time to seek out and really listen to others’ point of view, to understand things from a wider perspective, and to try to work the ‘common ground’ to advance your goals and aspirations was an important outcome for me in the program”.

According to Chris, the program helped equip him with the confidence to never lose sight of the wider perspective, to create opportunities to learn from others who hold different views, and the insight that working across complex community problems is not always about winning the argument of the day.

The importance of conversation, curiosity and patience

His greatest learning from the program was ultimately the simple notion of the importance of conversation, curiosity , and the patience in working across and through complexity.

“I am applying this learning, and some of the technical skills learned through Sydney Leadership in two major change programs I am leading in my work at the Illawarra Multicultural Communities Council and as chair of a non-profit board working in child protection and family support. This has involved me playing more of a ‘devils advocate’ and ‘challenger’ role than I would otherwise normally do as a natural conciliator and peacemaker!

The insight about ‘role’ and about being conscious and present in the moment to know what role is needed and when, and to modify his behaviour and approach for the situation at hand has been an important learning for Chris.

Taking on wider leadership responsibilities

When asked what impact Sydney Leadership has had on his career Chris says: “As a deeply reflective program, in hindsight it seems only natural that during the program I began to question the role that I was in, the impact I was having in that role, the readiness and willingness of that system to change, …and ultimately come to a recognition that it was time to seek new opportunities”.

Chris remembers that at the time it felt very unsettling and uncertain, like a betrayal to that system to ‘walk away’. But he says the program helped him to hold this uncertainty while exploring other options and the support of the group was invaluable. In the end, he found another way to serve the system and stay connected to the work in housing and homelessness, but in another capacity by joining a board rather than working operationally.

“Ultimately, I became more confident to step out of an operational management role as ‘the fixer’ and into wider leadership responsibilities at CEO level within 6 months of completing the program. My current role involves leading a regional peak body in multicultural affairs, focussed on working with a diverse range of communities, government, and business to promote social inclusion”.



MCCI and Why Documentaries have recently launched an amazing new collaboration called U&Me. The U&Me campaign is a collaborative that aims to celebrate the magic and wonder of multicultural Australia through the lens of friendship. MCCI and Why Documentaries showcased five incredible digital stories that highlight wonderful friendships between people from very different backgrounds. You can view the first five incredible stories at the U&Me channel on You Tube:

MCCI and Why Documentaries are now actively working to grow the campaign to generate and share more stories of diverse and wonderful friendships that showcase the best that Australia has to offer. If this interests you or your organization, they will be happy to hear from you