Molly Harriss Olson As part of our monthly segment, Our Community Leaders - Great Australian Leaders in Focus which features the thoughts of some of Australia's great leaders, this month we feature Molly Harriss Olson,  Director of the Australian-based international policy firm, Eco Futures and a former environment adviser to US President Bill Clinton.

Molly Harriss Olson

Molly Harriss Olson is Director of the Australian-based international policy firm, Eco Futures, which works to build sustainable strategies with business, government and civic leaders. She is also Convenor of the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development, which brings together leading local and international innovators in sustainable development.

During the 1990s Ms Olson was appointed by US President Bill Clinton to work on developing a broad-based national action strategy on sustainable development. She has served on a variety of high profile Australian Boards, including the Australia Institute, Clean Up Australia and the Australian Building Energy Council.

In 1995, Ms Olson was selected to be a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Leaders for Tomorrow program, which is made up of people born after 1950 who have distinguished themselves as recognised leaders in the world community.

We started by asking her who she considered to be the three great leaders of our time?

Molly Harriss Olson:
•    Nelson Mandela
•    The Dalai Lama
•    Mother Teresa
Because they have shown tremendous vision, self sacrifice and accomplishments against the odds. (Also Lowitja O'Donoghue.)

Our Community: What are the three attributes you would consider to be essential to a leader? And Why?

Molly Harriss Olson: Integrity, perseverance and vision, because the vision is needed to recognise a problem, injustice or opportunity; integrity is needed to gain respect and cooperation from friends and foes; and perseverance is needed to stay on the path.

Our Community: What are the three greatest barriers to new leaders emerging in Australia?

Molly Harriss Olson:
  1. Homogenisation of culture and political agendas
  2. Complexity of the current problems and solutions (i.e. climate change)
  3. Party monopoly over political selections
Our Community: What advice would you give to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?

Molly Harriss Olson: Take care of your body and soul – you will need the physical and emotional strength to persevere.

Our Community: Nature or nurture – are leaders born or bred?

Molly Harriss Olson: Both – they need the capacity (born) to rise to the occasion or challenge presented.

Our Community: What do you consider to be the three top leadership issues facing the nation?

Molly Harriss Olson:
  1.  Environmental protection / water, climate change etc.
  2. Reconciliation
  3. Global governance and Australia's role
Our Community: What insights have you gained personally on your leadership journey?

Molly Harriss Olson: Support for what you need often comes from the least expected places! Keep your ears and heart open for creative solutions.

Our Community: Who have been your own leadership mentors and how did they assist in developing your own leadership style?

Molly Harriss Olson:
  • Jane Goodall (Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation) – by example, and later in life in friendship.
  • Richard Cooley (dec.) – (Professor, University of California at Santa Cruz) – an accomplished naturalist, economist and sculptor who showed me what a whole life could be – passion, purpose, inspiration.

Published May 2004

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