Fiona Smith 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 Dr Jim Varghese, Former Director-General of the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland .

Dr Varghese had a distinguished career in the Australian Public Service and was the Director-General of the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland after having also been Director-General of Education. He has also headed Government departments in Victoria.

We started by asking Jim Varghese who he considered to be the three great leaders of our time?  And Why?

Dr Jim Varghese:

  • Nelson Mandela. Vision, persistence, commitment, integrity, inspirational.
  • Gandhi. Vision, persistence, commitment, integrity, inspirational.
  • Dalai Lama. Vision, persistence, commitment, integrity, inspirational.

Our Community: What are the three attributes you would consider to be essential to a leader?  And Why?
Dr Jim Varghese:
  • Vision. Ability to paint the big picture and strategically inform the detail comprising the bigger picture.
  • Engagement. Capacity to communicate, convey a powerful vision and support the detail underpinning it in a way that empowers and engages every person regardless of hierarchical position.
  • Integrity. The interdependent harmony between emotion intellect and values that is – connecting what you feel, think and believe to create personal centredness.

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

Dr Jim Varghese:
  • Lack of Vision/Lack of Leadership and excessive focus on the managerial dimension.  Pragmatism replacing the failure to provide engaging strategic vision and supporting detail.
  • Lack of Engagement –Inability to empower people and work with highly collaborative leadership models.
  • Integrity – Lack of understanding of personal centeredness and value in promoting the interdependent harmony of what you think, feel and believe.

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

Dr Jim Varghese:
Learn to understand in the context of learning and reflection:
  • Yourself
  • How you want others to view you
  • How others view you in a way that you don't see
  • When you ought to know that you don't know.
I would give this advice in the context of learning and reflection.

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

Dr Jim Varghese: Good leaders are bred or some are born leaders.  However, born leaders need to develop and nurture innate leadership abilities.  In my view the best leaders are bred, they seek to learn and grow through answering these four learning questions:  
  • What do I know about myself and the world around me?
  • How do I engage with the wider community?
  • What is my role and understanding as a citizen of Australia and the world?
  • How do I engage with technology and the environment?

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

Dr Jim Varghese:
  • Lack of a National Vision for Australia, eg. "Smart Nation" etc.
  • Preparation for the knowledge based economy and the critical role of social capital in this new economy.
  • Failure to nurture shared national and community values.

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

Dr Jim Varghese:
Gained invaluable insights in these areas:
  • Myself as a person and how it impacts on those I live and work with.
  • How others view me in ways that I do not realise – positive and negative.
  • How I project an image of how I want others to view me, that has been for many years quite unnecessary and counterproductive.
My significant learning is that what you see is what you get - You don't have to project an image or even work on one if you remain true to yourself. The growing ability to learn and reflect is the greatest gift of my learning journey.  

Who have been your own leadership mentors and how did they assist in development your own leadership style?

Dr Jim Varghese:
  • Parents. Understanding of self and cultural background.
  • Spouse and Children. Receiving and giving love and affection.
  • Lynn Brown, Secretary, Victorian Public Service Board. Encourage me to believe in my potential when I did not.
  • George Brouwer, Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet. Promoted me on the basis of being different and innovative.  Complimented me on my "bright" red bowtie at my first interview for a position in the Senior Executive Service in the Victorian Public Service.
  • University of Melbourne Executive MBA. Challenged me both intellectually and personally; and helped me conceptualise leadership models.
  • Executive Leadership Development Program – Queensland Office of Public Service. Helped me to understand non rational behaviours and linkages to performance outcomes.
  • Special Leave – Three and Half Months Gardening Leave (while Governments were changing!) Helped me to grow enormously in developing personal courage when your job has disappeared without warning or reason.
  • Friends/People who I have worked with in three Government Departments. Working through various collaborative leadership models.

Published August 2004