Qualities of good leadership
What is community leadership?
Everyone has a different idea of what makes a good leader. However,
most agree that merely having a particular job or position doesn't
define a good leader – it is more about a person's ability to work with
people and motivate them to achieve an outcome. A true leader has the
ability to inspire and gain respect while setting and achieving goals.
Or as Sir Gustav Nossal, a great Australian community leader,
scientist, thinker and former Australian of the Year, put it:
"Community leadership is the courage, creativity and capacity to inspire
participation, development and sustainability for strong communities."
As a prospective or sitting board member, you need to think carefully
about your own role in inspiring others to achieve an outcome for your
community group and the community as a whole.
What are some of the top qualities of a good leader?
Not everyone is cut out to be a leader and not everyone is cut out to
be the same sort of leader. An AFL footballer might be a leader among
footballers but not cut out for the captain's job. The captain might be
a wonderful captain but a dreadful coach. And the coach might be the
best coach ever but that doesn't necessarily make him a CEO.
As we have already mentioned, it is very difficult to define just what
makes a good leader, although there are some common traits that most
people agree upon.
- Self-awareness: Knowledge
of your own values, passions, skills, strengths and weaknesses. An
ability to admit and learn from mistakes and to seek information to fill
- Integrity: A strong sense of "what is right" and a demonstration
of ethical practices that sets the tone for others. A commitment to
teaching by example.
- Courage: The strength to
act in accordance with your own values and the greater good despite
pressures pushing you in other directions. The ability to put the cause
before the desire to be popular.
- Confidence: A belief in
your ability to meet most challenges that come your way.
- Vision: A strong sense of
where you are going as a person and where you think society, your
community and your organisation should be going – and how it might get
- Enthusiasm: A lively
interest in the people, issues and events around you, a feeling of
excitement about the possibilities, and the energy to guide them towards
- Innovation: The ability to
"think outside the box," take risks and develop new and effective
solutions to old and emerging problems.
- Wisdom: Intelligence
coupled with insight and empathy, as opposed to raw intelligence.
- Adaptability: A
willingness to be flexible and to respond quickly and effectively to
changing circumstances, along with a commitment to continual learning –
formal and informal – and the ability to put that learning into practice.
- Strong inter-personal skills: An
ability to interact and work harmoniously with others, while being
prepared to take on individual responsibilities.
- Effective communication: A
willingness and ability to listen to and understand the thoughts, ideas
and concerns of others and to clearly communicate your own. A vision is
nothing if it can't be sold to others.
- Belief in others: The
desire to build the capabilities of others, praise them where
appropriate, go into bat for them when appropriate, provide them with
helpful feedback and motivate them to do their best.
- Peer respect: An ability
to inspire respect, allowing a person to capably lead discussions,
maintain discipline and encourage the contribution of others.
- Insight: The ability to
see the big picture, coupled with a strong sense of what stage you are
at along the path, and intuit problems before they arise or before they
- Sense of humour: The
ability to laugh at yourself and relieve tense or stressful situations
- Competence: Others are
unlikely to follow the lead of a person who does not appear to know what
s/he is doing.
- Delegation skills: A
willingness to trust others and cede some responsibility.
Can leadership be taught?
It seems no one can agree on whether or not leaders are born or bred.
Some believe that leadership skills are with us when we are born – or
not – and no amount of training will make us rise to the challenge if
the "leadership gene" is absent. Others take the view that leadership
skills can be at least be enhanced, if not developed from scratch, by
experience, training, mentoring and circumstance. All it takes is for a
person to step forward or step up.
Whatever the case, if you are already on or thinking of joining a
community group board, chances are you either have the "gene" or you're
willing to give it a go, to "put your head above the parapet" as the
distinguished Australian leader Justice Michael Kirby has put it. And
making that decision in itself might go a long way to defining what
makes for a good community leader.
Where can I find out more?
Our Community's Leadership Centre (developed with the support of
the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services) brings
together the following resources to help community leaders improve and
enhance their skills:
- To search Australia's most comprehensive database for a
leadership program or course in your state or territory, click here.
- To read interviews with some of Australia's most inspirational
leaders, including Peter Garrett, John Eales, Sir Gustav Nossal, Professor
Fiona Stanley, Ian Kiernan, Justice Michael Kirby and Molly Harriss
Olson, click here.