Fiona Smith was the chair of both the Equal Opportunity Commission
and the Business Licensing Authority in Victoria and a great national
campaigner on issues of equality, disability and human rights over
many, many years.
In 2005, Fiona delivered an inspiring speech to the Communities
in Control conference titled Leadership - Imagine the Leaders we
Need and Deserve, which discussed the challenges facing community
leaders. The speech is available on the website with all the other
speeches from the Communities in Control conferences - at www.ourcommunity.com.au/cic
started by asking Fiona Smith who she considered to be the three great
leaders of our time? And why?
Mary Robinson - for helping maintain the vigil for human rights
in challenging times and doing it in a very accessible way.
Nelson Mandela - for demonstrating through incredible hardship that
the fight for racial equality is a strategy that can and will outlast
its opponents if we maintain our focus on universal human values and
Close to Home:
Justice Michael Kirby - for being Australia's most generous public
official with his time, intellect and personal honesty about being
Our Community: What are the three attributes
you would consider to be essential to a leader? Explain why they are important?
Being driven by a clear set of values that are about respect and
valuing all human beings;
Liking yourself and having confidence. As a leader, you invariably
have to take a stand on many issues. When people don't like you for
it, your inner being needs to be resilient.
Ability to work as a team and enjoy it. Australians have a healthy
disrespect for hierarchy and you need to work in partnership to achieve
your goals. No one ever achieves anything alone.
Our Community: What are the three greatest
barriers to new leaders emerging in Australia? And explain their impact.
Fear of failure - Some people say you only know you are getting
somewhere when you can recognize your failures.
Systemic barriers to equality for disadvantaged communities meaning
too few of their leaders emerge to tackle our community's inequalities.
Women's continuing inequality in the workplace, in the home and
in the Board Rooms and public institutions of Australia.
Our Community: What advice would you
give to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?
Identify and connect with your community - no matter what forms
the basis of it. For example, it could be geographic, gay, global,
disability or race based.
Find out what issues matter to your community and help deal with
Always aim to work with people who are more talented than you and
first learn to follow. You need to learn from other more seasoned
leaders. This gives you insight into what motivates and binds followers;
helps you see you must both lead and follow to succeed in your aims;
and reinforces the importance of nurturing emerging leaders.
Our Community: Nature/nurture - are leaders
born or bred?
Both. Having good role models really helps too.
Our Community: What do you consider to
be the three top leadership issues facing the nation?
Reconciliation with indigenous Australian's that delivers dignity,
respect and is sustainable.
Maintaining our safety measures for a just society including income
support, industrial law protections and robust human rights and equal
opportunity institutions and laws.
Working creatively to support our neighbours including Papua New
Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia while adapting to the challenges
of the emerging BRIC economies. BRIC equals Brazil, Russia, India
Our Community: What insights have you
gained personally on your leadership journey and how have they impacted
on your style of leadership?
I have learnt that if you are affected personally by something - like
a road through your local park, being indigenous and faced with racism
or having a mental illness, or as in my case, being a woman with a physical
disability and daily encountering a physically inaccessible built environment
- you can often articulate solutions better than the person who is not
I try and use my personal experiences to build bridges with other people
whilst guarding against being typecast. I have also learnt that if you
believe you and those around you can make a difference, a powerful force
can be unleashed. This certainly helps to drive me.
Our Community: Who have been your own
leadership mentors and how did they assist in developing your own leadership
I've had many people from whom I've learnt a lot as well as some who have
opened doors for me; given me challenging perspectives; and been generous
with their time. I regard myself as a very lucky person.
I'd single out three women (amongst many women and men) that I have been
Rhonda Galbally - for feisty advocacy for social and economic inclusion
of people who are marginalized.
Julie McCrossin - for her humour and demonstrating with great flair
how you can always act with integrity, be inclusive and fair.
Sister Veronica Brady - for showing that even within the most conservative
of institutions, or environments, you can still be an agent for change.