CEOs, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Jane Sydenham-Clarke, CEO of Skyline Education Foundation

August 28, 2019

Jane Sydenham-Clarke is the Chief Executive Officer of Skyline Education Foundation, an organisation which provides support to gifted and talented students, from socially and financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Photo credit: Simon Schluter, The Age

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I started my career as a registered general nurse and then specialised in psychiatry where I learnt so much about the human condition and this remains really helpful every day.

I was lucky to be invited into health promotion, initially in government and then with VicHealth where I led several programs seeding my interest in innovative commercial practice to achieve social outcomes.

I then held leadership roles at Southgate Arts and Leisure Precinct, Kidney Health Australia and for close to ten years, Fed Square.

Most recently as CEO at Freemasons Victoria I was responsible for transformation in a deeply traditional organisation.

I am a Monash University alumna with BA (Hons) Women’s Studies and MA (Creating an Icon), Leadership Victoria Fellow, Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Deputy Chair of the Victorian Tourism Awards Judges Panel and I have a love of pro bono assignments including those on Boards such as with the Health Issues Centre and the Centre for Grief Education.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

As Skyline Education Foundation’s inaugural CEO, my days are eclectic, leading a talented and aspirational management team as we grow the number of disadvantaged gifted and academically talented students who we can empower through our unique Program.

As a small not for profit organisation, we are all hands-on, responding to the many opportunities that come our way, often thanks to our engaged Board of Directors.

I spend time with our VCE students, alumni in university or starting their careers, philanthropists, supporters, educators and other professionals who support our work.

I am blown away daily by the gratitude and immense potential of our students and by the open hearted generosity of our Skyline family who enable us in so many ways.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I am awake early to reflect, build my list for the day, catch up with emails, check my schedule, have breakfast and take my little dog Arnold for a walk.

Some days I am out and about in meetings with stakeholders to move the business forward.

Other days I am in the office engaging with my team, talking with donors and keeping on top of our annual planning, evaluation and reporting cycle.

Regularly we are in the field with students in residential programs and masterclasses. In the evening I am walking Arnold, spending time with my son Lochie around his university commitments and trying to create lovely vegan meals!

I do try to contain my work hours, but to be honest, this can be difficult, but I work a four day week and that allows flexibility for balance and prioritising friendships.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Keeping enough reserve head and heart space as well as energy to be strategic and organised.

There is a real risk in continually running at top speed – this can lead to reducing efficiency and effectiveness and burn-out.

I need to prioritise time to think and process, learning comes less from the experience and more from reflecting on the experience.

Being clear about my values and living by them. Understanding my purpose, setting my goals and timelines, measure my progress. Holding myself to account – but with the kindness I would extend to others.

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5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

It’s about trying to be kind to myself and keeping some boundaries. Prioritising time for me and my loved ones.

Doing the planning like I would at work where I need a plan – the same applies on a personal level.

My plan sits across a matrix that obliges me to consider my goals personally – spiritually, emotionally and physically; with family and friends; at home; professionally.

Good plans include opportunities for growth and development – I listen to audiobooks and podcasts while walking or travelling.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

Balance means equanimity – a sense of even-mindedness and harmony. A place of peacefulness.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I am closest to balance when I am most aligned with my values – Purpose, Integrity, Love, Optimism, Compassion and Kindness. The closer I am to these, the more balanced I feel.

8) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Currently I am immersed in Brene Brown. Her research on women, shame and vulnerability and her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong – these are pivotal for me.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

In the context of my annual plan, I confirm my plan in the morning and reflect on progress at the end of the day.

10) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Be firm but kind to yourself. “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love” – Brene Brown.

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