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Board Member profile - John Withers FAIM

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

As part of our regular series where we introduce the AIM Group Board, we recently sat down for a chat with AIM Board Member, John Withers FAIM to hear how he got involved with AIM and what role he believes AIM Membership can play in the careers of Australia's managers and leaders.

John Withers has extensive experience as a leader and manager in Defence, and more recently in the private and public sectors. After completing his schooling in Melbourne, John entered the Royal Military College and served as an officer in the Australian Regular Army for 25 years in the Infantry and the Special Air Service Regiment.

After leaving the Regular Army in 1998, John moved to Hobart where he has worked in the private and public sectors. John is currently an HR specialist with the Tasmanian State Government holding a number of positions in the Department of Education and more recently the Department of Justice.

Tell us about yourself and how you became associated with AIM.

I was in the regular army for about 25 years and although I was enjoying it, I had a young family so I decided it was time to pursue a career outside of the military. I also spent a couple of years with the United Nations in New York while I was still in the army and I’d started streaming my military career into personnel management and strategic planning. I studied an MBA and undertook some other training as it became clear to me that not a lot of civilians understood exactly what military officers did.

In 1998 I moved to Tasmania to start my new career and it was around the same time that I became involved with AIM. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been an active member of AIM in Tasmania serving as a member of the local committee of management, implementing and facilitating on the Aspiring Manager Program, and the AIM Business Leadership Awards.

In addition to that I became a Board Member on the AIM Victoria/Tasmania Board about three years ago and have more recently transitioned onto the National AIM Group Board following the merger last year.

Why do you believe professional memberships are important for managers and leaders?

I think being part of a professional membership organisation is quite important but I don’t mean that in the context of some professions where you have to be a member to be accredited. If that’s all you’re joining an organisation for then it’s not very valuable. My view is that the reason you join a membership organisation is because you support the underlying philosophy of that organisation. In the case of AIM, obviously that philosophy is about the development of leadership and management skills.

To be honest I haven’t really focused on my own development through my membership with AIM but I have had some opportunities to learn through my involvement with the Board and the committees. The real value I’ve taken from Membership is the opportunity to mentor and support other managers.

What do you think is the key benefit AIM offers to Members?

I read recently in the news about the struggle universities have in effectively preparing graduates for work as although they have the technical skills they are still lacking a good understanding of how a business really works as well some of the leadership skills that only come through maturity in your career. My personal view is that the focus of identifying talent is on technical skills but not necessarily due to their leadership ability.

My view is that AIM is best placed to provide people with an opportunity to learn and develop not only their management skills but also their leadership ability as it is a pretty unique skillset to have. The way I look at it is that you manage resources but you lead people.

The ability to network and meet new people through AIM is important but I don’t mean that in the way that some people view networking. There is a view of networking in that it’s an opportunity to meet other people so that you can get some sort of benefit in return but I think that’s the wrong way of going about things. My view of being engaged with AIM is that it’s an opportunity to contribute which is why I’ve enjoyed being involved in some of the various mentoring programs over the years. It is the value of seeing things from a new perspective while at the same time passing on some of my own experience.

Which Membership initiatives are you most enthusiastic about?

In a broad sense I’m most excited right now about us heading back to being a dedicated Membership organisation and delivering real value to our Members. It’s about us doing the simple things well such as running events where people can meet and exchange ideas while hearing some interesting speakers. In a lot of the regions this hasn’t been happening recently due to the restructuring that’s been going on but I’m excited about getting back to the strategic focus of delivering these benefits to Members.

In Tasmania, I’m looking forward to being able to expose more of the business community here to some valuable leadership and management development opportunities as they aren’t always easy to come by. Although there are other professional bodies here that deliver events and networking, they don’t offer quite the same leadership focus that we do.

There is also a real opportunity to broaden the Membership base in terms of  emerging to experienced leaders, occupations, and gender and diversity.