Allan Fels 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, we feature Professor Allan Fels AO, former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Professor Allan Fels AO

Professor Allan Fels AO was appointed Dean of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government in July 2003 after a distinguished career as the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission from 1995 until 2003.

Prior to his role as Chair of the ACCC he was Chairman of the former Trade Practices Commission from 1991 until 1995 and Chairman of the Prices Surveillance Authority from 1989 until 1992.  Professor Fels was appointed as Professor of Administration at Monash University in 1984 and was the Director of the Graduate School of Management, Monash University from 1985 until 1990. He is now an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University and became a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Melbourne in 2003. He was awarded the Order of Australia in June 2001.

In more recent times Professor Fels has taken a prominent role in pushing for more resources for mental health.

We began by asking who Professor Fels considered to be the three great leaders of our time?  And Why?

Professor Allan Fels:
  • Nelson Mandela -  for his life long crusade for justice for South Africa.
  • UN Secretary General - Kofi Annan for universal leadership.
  • Mother Teresa – for care for the poor.

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

Professor Allan Fels:
  • A clear vision of a useful goal;
  • An ability to communicate internally and externally;
  • An ability to work with other people.
  • And, above all, a willingness to take on a difficult problem and not assume the solution is "leadership" by one person.

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

Professor Allan Fels:
I shall limit myself to leadership in the public sector.  The barriers are:
  • the lack of independence like there used to be in the past
  • the relative unattractiveness of public sector pay
  • the sheer difficulty of defining objectives clearly in the public service where much legislation is ambiguous


Our Community: What advice would you give to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?

Professor Allan Fels:  Recognise that leadership is not handing down tablets from above.  A hard problem often requires profound shifts in community attitudes and behaviour with no profound focus on a single leader.

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

Professor Allan Fels:
Leaders are able to be bred.  

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

  • Handling defence and security issues.
  • Macroeconomic management.
  • Microeconomic reform especially water.

Our Community: What insights have you gained personally on your leadership journey?

Professor Allan Fels:

I have learnt that you need a worthwhile cause, to know the subject well and then to articulate it.

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

Professor Allan Fels:  My approach has not been to focus on a single person.  I have gone out of my way to travel very widely throughout the world, to meet and mix with many different people and to take a bit from each.  Also I don't strongly believe in leaders who are necessarily imbued with a clear simple vision.  Some problems are very complex, not solvable by one person's vision, and needing a team approach, and an approach which affects many people's behaviour.  My intellectual hero in this regard is Ron Heifetz, of Harvard's Kennedy School, for example in his Leadership Without Easy Answers.