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11 Leadership Lessons from the 2024 Shitbox Rally

Just one month ago, Jocelyn Bennett (Project Coordinator) and her partner, Foysal Ahmed (Data Analyst), both of whom work with 青青草视频 Health Service, climbed into a Mitsubishi that they'd purchased for $1,500 and headed for Adelaide to be part of the Autumn Edition of the Shitbox Rally (SBR)—Australia's largest cancer research fundraiser. 

Jocelyn had one of the most memorable experiences of her life, but she also came away with a host of insights with broader leadership implications. Here are 11 Leadership Lessons based on Jocelyn’s SBR experience!


1. Team Matters

When you throw together 6-7 teams of two into a buddy group—some with deep driving and mechanical experience, some with none— none of whom know each other, the wheels can quickly fall off if there isn't a commitment to the team above the individual.


"The campsite in the evening was a major undertaking. People arrive at different times depending on their adventures throughout the day. We were a sea of around 300 tents and almost 600 people,"


"In the evening, there was catered food and organised games, but usually we preferred to hang out and chat with our buddy group, there was always something worth talking about from the day."


"We'd sit around, share stories, laughed at the days hardships, and made those friendships that come from adversity. That’s what made the whole thing special."


"Out on the road, we'd often see cars from other buddy groups broken down. Sometimes you’d see that their group was spread out over long distances. We never split up though and always made sure we stayed together. You never knew what kind of help would be needed; it wasn’t just mechanical know-how that was required,"


"It wasn't as though our team was in perfect harmony; long days and stressful events put pressure on everyone, but we worked hard to keep together, even when things were tough,"


"It's easy enough to get angry or annoyed when someone's problem affects the rest of the group, but we understood that what happens to one happens to all - that's how we worked together," Jocelyn said.


The value of 'team' was the glue that made challenging moments bearable, allowed for a sense of levity when required, and brought the best out in people.


2. Adversity creates connection

The SBR may be a fundraising powerhouse, but it's also a social experiment. 


Teams/vehicles are put together into buddy groups with 6-7 other teams. These buddy groups are a mix of experience and inexperience, mechanical and non-mechanical. You have a potentially volatile social dynamic when you combine $1,500 vehicles, vast amounts of daily driving in remote territories, and many people you've just met.


"Every buddy group has some mechanics to help with the likely event of mechanical failure or mishap, but they're not the only people of value in a team,"


"People with clinical skills are important - our buddy group had a registered nurse and a paramedic,"


"One of our group was quite seriously injured in Ceduna, slicing their fingers on a fan as they were repairing their car. We were fortunate to have them on our team, but also be in a town with a health service that was able to treat the injury, without their help his rally might have ended there,"


"Early on I noticed that these mishaps - including when our oil sump was damaged - and adversities were when connections were forged,"


"We were the first car in the group to break down. We’d been making great time and felt awful that we were the ones to cause the hold up on a particularly gruelling day of driving. However, that was the catalyst for bringing us together over the coming seven days."


"Without challenges, it takes much longer to forge strong, trusting relationships. You really find out the quality of people when they’re put under trying circumstances. We were all new to one another, so these daily incidents became our shared experiences," Jocelyn explained.


One writer, speaking about group dynamics, differentiates community from 'communitas'. Communitas is the sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among people who experience adversity as a group. Many crave belonging without the adversity that brings connection. 'Communitas’ recognises that mission, purpose, and adversity are HOW we get there.


3. 'Mine' = push-ups

One of the memorable things about the rally was the blanket ban on the word 'mine'. If anyone was heard to say it, there was the immediate penalty of ten push-ups. This ban reflected a deeply embedded value of collaboration and community, and it applied to everyone, always.


"There were some extreme applications of this. After the long briefing in Adelaide, we had one of the teams next to us at the lights. The lights turned green, but the car didn't move. Then we saw the driver step out and bust out ten push-ups on the median strip,"


"Even the CEO dropped the word in a speech on the first morning and had to offer ten push-ups on top of a car as a penalty," Jocelyn said. 


The premise is simple: nothing is yours; it's all ours. It's a strong premise for life. It's more about stewardship than possession; if it's yours, it's yours to share.


4. Adversity births Invention

The whole point of SBR is the challenge of participating in a car that cost less than $1,500. Not only is this a difficult task in today’s economic climate, it also opens up the participants to mechanical disasters.


"There's a temptation to take the easy way out and turn up with a more expensive vehicle - Foys and I were determined not to, there's actually a level of shame in flaunting the rules and going against the spirit of the rally,”


"I'm not sure people understand how hard it is to find a car for under $1,500 that is registered and running, let alone one that will drive thousands of kilometres,"


“One of our teams had a 1977 Alfa Romeo which was overheating. You can’t exactly pick up parts for that in the middle of nowhere, so the mechanics in our group rerouted the window washers to spray extra water on the radiator to keep it going until they had time for a better solution,” Jocelyn remembered fondly.


"Not everything could be dealt with on the road, so there was the triage area at the camp each night for cars needing more serious repairs, that was a hive of activity and creativity,"


"Triage was able to fix almost anything regardless of whether or not they had the perfect spares. They repurposed and reconfigured what they had to get cars ready to pull out of camp the next morning," Jocelyn recalled.


Inventions and solutions are driven by need. Necessity is the mother of invention, and, stranded on the side of the road, so is adversity.


5. Knowledge = Power

While SBR is not competitive, Jocelyn & Foys’ buddy group found themselves towards the back of the pack due to breakdowns resulting in even longer days.


"This actually affected our team. The more time you lose, the later you arrive at camp, the less time you have for eating, hanging out, repairs, and most importantly, sleep" Jocelyn said.


“The rally rotates the order in which cars leave camp each day so that you’re not always leaving last, but one bad breakdown can add hours to your already extensive travel time,”


"The initial breakdowns galvanised our desire to get into camp early so we could spend time together face to face, not just over the radio. We decided to spend a little extra time each night and in the morning after briefing to plan the upcoming day’s driving,”


"Because we started planning together and using each other's strengths, like our local knowledge for instance, we were able to gain ground each day, overtaking other groups who hadn’t planned out their stops,"


"We had contacts in these remote lands and started to lean on them! We called ahead to people we knew, and they allowed us to take parts we needed from abandoned vehicles so that we could keep moving,”


"Foys and I, along with two others in our group, knew of places to stop that weren’t in the route guides, or were less popular, so we avoided long queues and suddenly we weren't finishing at the back of the pack but sometimes in the first handful of buddy groups," Jocelyn said.


The leadership lesson? Broad knowledge and experience give you an upper hand against your competition but only when combined with good planning, collaboration, and adapting to local conditions!


6. …but it's not all about what you know

The power of knowledge is of little use if it's not combined with collaboration and good relationships. The benefit of knowing the right people, having the correct information, and capitalising on that knowledge is multiplied when it's shared with your team, and when you work with the people supporting you.


"Some teams floundered because they failed to stick together. When things got tough, they seemed to fracture rather than be forged into something stronger," Jocelyn said. 


"It's like working for the 青青草视频 Group; if we stick together, with our focus on the vision and mission of what we're about, we're going to realise some powerful outcomes,"


"But if we fracture whenever something gets tricky, or fail to value everyone’s knowledge and experience, we also get stuck or move backwards,"


"We may not get there perfectly, but we're moving forward with a team that's growing together, celebrating the small wins, and feeling supported together as we go," Jocelyn said.


Institutional knowledge is powerful, but it can be leveraged by collaboration with the team around you to build upon the legacy that's been established.


7. Collaboration makes everyone better

When people bring their best to the table with an eye on possibility, great things can happen.


"One of the things that I loved about SBR was that it was like a distilled version of working on the Lands," Jocelyn said.


"You have a goal at the beginning of the day to get from one place to another, and you have to work together as a team to make that happen. It's not without curve balls and unexpected adventure, but the goal remains,”


“To begin, you think that the most valuable people in any group are the mechanics, but you realise as the rally unfolds that everyone plays their part,”


"You think all of these adventures bring everyone together, but that wasn't true of every group or team. The same sorts of problems that united our group divided others, and at times you could hear the frustrations over the radio chatter,”


“What helped our team grow together was leaving our egos at the door, and a determination not let challenges derail our goal,” Jocelyn said.


Putting collaboration at the heart of a team doesn’t remove the possibility of bang-ups and hang-ups, but it brings something more powerful to the table to keep the convoy moving!


8. Seemingly small moments can be indelible

Leaders can sometimes focus on broad, systemic changes within organisations, and that's important, but often, it's also the small moments that, when dignified and recognised, can bring profound cultural change.


"Something I noticed as we moved to the more remote parts of SBR was how impactful the rally stops were for small communities, particularly Oodnadatta and Penong,"


"Community members were driving hundreds of kilometres to support the rally coming through their community. It wasn't all about the spectacle as much as the impact that it was having on their community,"


"While it was a rally stop for us, it was a boost to the economy of their communities— perhaps the 500 of us showing up on their doorstep may be as many visitors as they normally see over several months!"


"The communities host all the catering and entertainment and receive income through campsite fees, and it helps support their sporting clubs and community groups,"


"It made us eager for our communities, like Warburton, to ready themselves for when the rally comes through, as was originally intended this year," Jocelyn observed.


It's a long bow to draw, but small, consistent, targeted actions of recognition, celebration, and action can have an indelible mark on an organisation's culture and an individual's morale. What might seem like a one-off occurrence for some, will have a lasting effect on others.


9. A big 'why' changes everything

Knowing the bigger story behind what you are part of shapes how you respond to the ups and downs of life within an organisation. The occasional rollercoaster can be endured if the 'why' is great, understood, and well communicated.


"Rally days are big days—plenty happens, and not all of it enjoyable,"


"We can be tired and annoyed with people and ourselves sometimes as we were in continued and close contact with one another,"

"While much of that was fun, it certainly wasn't all sunshine and roses,"


"What made it bearable was that beyond the immediate, we knew we were part of something bigger. Everyone in the rally has been impacted by cancer in some way, and being part of Australia’s biggest community fundraiser for the Cancer Council keeps you going,"


"It reminded me of our work with people on the Lands. People are working hard and long, and some of that can involve friction, but we have an enduring why: helping Yarnangu flourish on Country, and that brings perspective to those difficulties,"


Refocussing and realigning on your 'why' brings fresh eyes to problems and setbacks that we'll never spot if we're stuck in the trenches.


10. The Lands are large

One of the enormous attractions of having a team from within 青青草视频 Health Service within SBR is that the rally route traversed the Lands… Until flooding intervened, rendering the original route impassable.


"We thought that not driving through the Lands meant we wouldn't see any Yarnangu; that we wouldn’t get that connection. Not true," Jocelyn said.


"We saw quite a lot of community members on the road—some because they were enduring the same detour as us, others because they'd been off Country for a long time but were now living elsewhere such as Ceduna or APY Lands,"


"Mr Kinari (Chairperson of the 青青草视频 Board) spends time on APY lands, as do other community members"


"We saw numerous people from the Lands who were quick to stop us for a chat when they saw the signage on our car,"


"What was so beautiful was that, despite a field of nearly 250 vehicles, they suddenly saw something they recognised, and they were so excited to see something they could connect to,"


"One of my favourite parts of the whole rally was those little moments when we became a small connection to Country for some people—it reminded me of how large the Yarnangu diaspora is, across Australia and beyond,"


"It felt like a community outreach of sorts!" Jocelyn commented.


While our desire is to see the aspirations of Yarnangu flourish and remain strong on country, it's also a reminder of how members of these relatively small remote communities take their culture with them as they go.


11. From little things, big things grow

The Shitbox Rally was founded by James Freeman in 2009 after he lost both of his parents to cancer 12 months apart. It was a good idea that became a grand idea. The commitment from the beginning was that all money raised would be given to Cancer Council. 


The very first rally, from Sydney to Alice Springs in 2010, featured 23 cars and raised $103,000. It was far beyond the wildest expectations. The Autumn edition of 2024 (there are at least two events a year now) has raised $3,001,001 and brings the cumulative total raised to $46,189,166.


"The government funds a lot of Cancer research, but those that don’t get government funding are passed on to the Cancer Council so that any charity fundraising can support this research,"


"So great is the impact of SBR, that of the 12 cancer research projects in this tier, 11 are funded by SBR - it's remarkable,"


"It's the largest community fundraiser for the Cancer Council in Australia - bigger than ‘The Biggest Morning Tea' or anything else – it has a huge impact,"


"As a health service, we're always trying to get people well, and this is the sort of stuff that helps us do that," Jocelyn said. 

Do not despise the day of small beginnings!

——-

Plenty happens on a rally that, all up, took around eight days. Jocelyn came away with a depth of experience and application that made another SBR irresistible.


"My recommendation to anyone even slightly curious about being part of Shitbox Rally: 'Just do it, you won’t regret it'" Jocelyn encouraged.



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