ADVISORY SPOTLIGHT: 10 Qs with Human Skills Superhero … Leah Cunningham

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4 min read

Welcome Leah, and thanks for stepping into the Maxme Spotlight!
You’re an invaluable member of the Maxme Advisory – a true human skills superhero – but you’re also Maxme’s Chief of all things UX. In 1 sentence, what does this role entail?

Hello! Wow, if I HAD to describe that in only 1 sentence I would say…

I’m responsible for ensuring that any of the ‘user-impacting’ decisions we make are ones which foremost consider what value this has for the user, and how to maximise that value using whatever tools and resources we have available.

In 3 dot points, what do you love about this work?

  • It means something to me personally – I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way – in life and in my career. If by working with Maxme I can help to reduce or eliminate some of that struggle for others, then that’s hugely satisfying
  • It’s addressing a real problem – the world we face is becoming increasingly complex and the fact of the matter is, human skills are absolutely critical to better navigating that complexity. Unfortunately, however, these skills simply aren’t being cultivated well enough through traditional education channels
  • It’s fun – we have a great team, we value each other, we value quality and creativity, and we believe in what we’re doing

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

I’ve taken a lot of ‘side-steps’ in my education and career to end up where I am now. I strongly believe that regardless of how much time you’ve invested in your current ‘path’, if it’s not taking you in a direction that’s making you happy, it’s better to cut your losses and try to find a better path.

I started Uni doing Landscape Architecture, and after two years, decided it wasn’t for me. I switched to Commerce, majoring in Marketing & Management with a Business Law minor.

That Marketing + Business Law combo got me into a junior Marketing & Business Development role in a big law firm. I loved it at first because I was learning so much and getting lots of opportunities to take on more responsibility, including managing updates for the website.

After a few years working there, and in the midst of a global financial crisis, I realised law firm marketing and business development wasn’t right for me and was feeling a bit lost. I wanted to do something a bit more creative so I did a Cert IV in Graphic Design in the hope it would create some kind of stepping stone for me.

This all led me to my next step working for a small web design agency doing Project Management and User Experience (UX), which I’d never heard of until then!

From there, I decided UX was my calling and worked in several other roles until eventually deciding to work for myself… which eventually led me to Maxme!

For me, the lines between educational pathways and career pathways are often intermingled. The learning never ends and the pathway is never straight.

It’s also not a solo journey – people around you are constantly opening doors of opportunity. If you work hard, care about the people you work with, and follow what feels right for you, the opportunities flow freely.

Maximising human potential through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. What inspires / excites you most about this mission you’re helping to bring to life?

You can see a huge impact of good human skills in just one individual. For me, imagining the impact of that on an entire generation is a really exciting thought.

Imagine a world where everyone can be their true, best self and play to their strengths – whatever that looks like.

Imagine if everyone was fully accepting that they didn’t need to be perfect and that weaknesses are normal.

Imagine what we could achieve with less fear of failure and judgement. Imagine the ideas we would come up with.

Imagine how much more confidence people would have in themselves, and others.

Imagine the impact of all of that on mental health, our society and our planet.

It’s easy to get carried away, but it’s exciting to think about!

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

Well, my #1 VIA Character trait is fairness, but I think if I were to put it into my own terms I’d say…

An ability to make good decisions and solve problems through learning and consideration of a broad range of factors.
Reflecting on Australia’s current education frameworks, curriculums and workforce pathways, what do you believe needs to be changed, fixed or solved?

I think there really needs to be more general awareness and understanding of the value of human skills development and the impact this can have across the board, from school, to uni and in the workplace.

We know you’re a human skills superhero … but if you had to pick just one to truly master, which would it be and why?

Resilience. I feel like the ability to not take things personally, and to shake off setbacks and come back stronger than before is highly underrated.

If you could share one piece of career advice with Upper Secondary &/or Uni students, what would it be?

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know exactly what you want to do for your career and don’t focus too much on aspiring to be like someone else.

Things change so invest your efforts in the things YOU enjoy and if you’re not sure that those things are, pay attention to the things that you feel excited about doing or where the time flies by and ask yourself why that is.

You’ve been granted approval to add a recent tertiary graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

Someone with a curious mind who isn’t afraid to ask questions and actively ‘leans in’ to opportunities in order to learn new things.

Someone who is confident communicating and working with other people, including people at a more senior level.

Someone who thinks about other people and is open to new ideas and perspectives.

Someone who can work with uncertainty

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

So many things!

I used to paint when I was younger and haven’t done as much of it in my adult life as I would have liked. I recently started working on something for a friend and I’m dipping a toe into digital painting in Photoshop to do mock-ups. Digital painting is something I’ve never done before. I’m also trying to figure out what my own aesthetic is. It’s one of the things I hope to be able to invest more time in and develop.