On July 1, Erin Faehrmann celebrated one year as Youth Opportunities’ Chief Executive! Her dedication to Youth Opportunities and commitment to bettering young people’s lives didn’t just start one year ago – in fact Erin served on our Board and was Head of Training before being appointed CE. We asked Erin to reflect back on her one-year journey as CE and answer a few questions for us.
How did your journey with Youth Opportunities begin?
In 2015 I was coming to the end of my MBA studies and considering volunteer Board positions so I could use my business and leadership expertise for purpose. My friend worked at Youth Opportunities and would tell me all about the organisation and its programs and services on our Tuesday night walks, so really, I fell in love with Youth Opps walking the backstreets of suburbia with her. She connected me with the Chief Executive at the time, Peter Carey, and long story short I ended up on the Board, then in time was approached to be Peter’s succession plan as Chief Executive as he moved to retirement.
What was it about the organisation and our mission that empowered you to work with us?
I come from very humble beginnings and grew up with some of the most challenging experiences you can imagine. Throughout my career I’ve also worked with people who, for many and complex reasons often not of their own doing, don’t have the capacity or the capability to live their best lives. I’ve volunteered with a number of other organisations that helped young people “today”, but hadn’t found one that could demonstrate that it was building the ongoing capacity and resilience in young people for their “tomorrows”. Well Youth Opportunities does that in spades and has the evidence to prove it! It does it smartly with solid psychological underpinnings and ongoing coaching support, and in a way that puts young people at the centre which makes my head AND my heart sing.
As the incoming CE last year, what were you most looking forward to as head of the organisation?
Definitely the opportunity to get to know our amazing supporters. As I said, I come from very humble beginnings so I’m constantly blown away and often overwhelmed by the generosity, heart and genuine care of the individuals, businesses and community organisations who invest in our young people. It’s truly one of the most inspiring parts of the job, to see the compassion and empathy as well as the sense of urgency that our donors and volunteers have to make the world a better place. It’s an honour to know them and to bring their aspirations to life through our work.
What were your biggest moments of growth over the year as CE?
Personally, I’ve learned an enormous amount about mental wellbeing, both the positive side like the joy of having a proactive self-care plan and a culture of gratitude, but also the tragic side like how to help a young person put in place a suicide safety plan and to coach them through some of the toughest times of their lives. Every day is equally heartbreaking and inspiring. For Youth Opps, COVID-19 has been a challenge, and a big moment of choosing growth for our organisation that has to be acknowledged. I’m fortunate to have a truly supportive Board, an inspiring team of people who’ve gone above and beyond and visionary, passionate school leaders who worked with us to adapt so we will surv-thrive.
How did your career prepare you for leading a non-profit?
I have a diverse business leadership background, and so was well equipped as a ‘jack of all trades’ which you definitely need to be as the Chief Executive of a non-profit! My original university studies and early career were in information technology, lean systems engineering and business change management, so I bring a bunch of skills and experiences that don’t traditionally reside within non-profits of our size. I’m also a really skilled and passionate networker which I believe is essential in our sector and I’d love to see more of it – alone we are sweeping back the ocean of challenges facing our young people but by partnering and sharing resources, knowledge and networks we can have a stronger impact together.
Do you have any advice for any young professionals out there aspiring to be leaders?
First of all, you already are a leader! Thinking you become a leader once it’s in your job description is so last century. You lead yourself every day, whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, and you are already having an enormous impact on the people around you whether you realise it or not. You get to choose whether that impact is a positive one, leaving people feeling better about themselves and more hopeful for the future, or leaving your impact to chance. Secondly, I recommend coaches, get as many of them as you can! Peer coaches, mentoring coaches, personal leadership coaches, career coaches, wellbeing coaches… whatever you can get your hands on! Having a team of cheerleaders to offer support, advice, encouragement and connection is a significant part of my leadership and personal self-care plan.
What’s your best advice for successful leadership?
Oh, so much I want to say! Invite me for a cuppa some time and I’d love to talk more. I grew up in utilities, so I believe first and foremost in my duty of safety leadership, both physical and psychological. There’s a reason it’s on the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; we need safety at our foundation to be at our best. Then often when I present on the topic of leadership I talk about three things – purpose, values and play. There’s quite a body of knowledge on values-aligned leadership and living a life of purpose, but the one people are often curious about because it’s not as well known is play, and yes I mean for adults, and yes I mean in the workplace! I’m a big believer in the power of purposeful play, and how it can bring down barriers to connection, authenticity, trust and high performance. I recommend you give people permission to play at work in the course of delivering on their outcomes, then watch and measure what happens to the positive impact your organisation can make on the world.