Dr Simon Longstaff AO is the Executive
Director of the St James Ethics Centre. A former student and lecturer at
Magdalene College, Cambridge, Dr Longstaff has a Master of Philosophy
and Doctor of Philosophy, with research centring on related questions
arising in the areas of political philosophy, ethics and the philosophy
of education. Dr Longstaff was inaugural President of The Australian
Association for Professional & Applied Ethics and is a Director
of a number of companies. He is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum
and a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Foreign
Policy Association, based in New York. His first book, Hard Cases,
Tough Choices was published in 1997. He is currently preparing
a second on the role of conscience. Dr Longstaff serves on a number
of committees and is a Director of Our Community.
Our Community: Who do you consider to be
the great leaders of our time, and why?
Sir John Monash. He was a man who believed in moral courage. He was
a great leader in a military sense but he never stopped being a citizen.
I think it was really important that he always maintained a notion of
citizenship rather than being swept up by things.
Gandhi - for being just a standout leader because he was never tempted
to embrace the politics of exclusion and his commitment to non-violent
engagement was not only markedly effective but showed just what it was
possible to do.
Our Community: What are the three attributes
you would consider to be essential to a leader?
Moral courage is the first. It's the ability- in whatever role you happen
to occupy - to stand true to the things that you believe to be right and
good. That's what ultimately inspires all people I think more than anything
The ability to be reflective and to do so to escape the chains of unthinking
custom or practice. Truly great leaders are constructively subversive individuals
who refuse to accept the world as it is given to them and refuse to accept
or take established patterns of behaviour and systems and structures and
instead ask "why" and ties them back to some deeper structures or principle
which allows for evolution or revolution to take place.
I don't know what the words are to describe this but I think great leaders
are able to sense on three levels.
They have the ability to hop in the helicopter and see the overall picture
while simultaneously being in the submarine and picking up the undercurrents
and they are also able to live there in the moment as well.
They operate on three levels but they do it simultaneously - they have the
overview, they pick up the subtle undercurrents and they get a feel for
Our Community: What are the three greatest
barriers to new leaders emerging in Australia?
An apparent lack of hope about the possibility of affecting change
and that emerges from a couple of different places:
From the perception of the unwieldy complexity in the world and
the size of the problems that have to be addressed. That feeling of
"how can I do that?" It's a forgetting of the ways that individuals
and groups can make change.
The unfortunate tendency of people in power to tell us just to be
realistic. Don't dream big, don't think you can change anything, just
keep in your place.
The preference for a quiet life. We are disinclined to challenge.
Despite the myth of us being antiauthoritarian we Australians knuckle
under to authority more than most. You can see it with all the rules
and regulations that surround our lives and our compliance with them.
That compliance nature can be stultifying for leaders or potential leaders.
Lack of appetite for risk. We tend to prefer a comfortable existence
rather than putting ourselves on the edge such as speaking out against
a perspective; it can be physically challenging ourselves. The preference
for a quiet and secure existence is the deeper reason why when a tall
poppy pops up we don't always like it because it exposes our own lack
of imagination and engagement.
Our Community: What advice would you give
to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?
Just ask why. It's the notion of the constructive subversive - to be prepared
to ask why. If it seems wrong, challenge it. Don't be afraid to challenge
or to change.
Our Community: Nature/nurture - are leaders
born or bred?
They are not born. There's the big capital L leaders that occupy roles which
gives them status as a leader and then you have countless people who are
leaders that may never have a formal position.
I don't think even think the Capital L leaders are born to lead. I think
they grow into a role and people that other people most admire often find
themselves suddenly in a position where they have to take up the mantle
of leadership and they grow into it. Some extraordinary individuals just
pull themselves up entirely from their own bootstraps.
I do think it is something which you can prepare yourself to do.
Our Community: What do you consider to
be the three top leadership issues facing the nation?
To inspire in our young people a sense of idealism and hope. We tend
to crush it out of people rather than inspiring it.
Resolving the issue with our indigenous situation. There is a huge
potential in us doing that in terms of the ease with which we find ourselves
living in this land.
Sustainability. Whether or not we can find a way to prosper and as
a prosperous nation assist others with their development whilst not
placing an ultimately fatal burden on the land.
Our Community: What insights have you gained
personally on your leadership journey?
Don't take yourself too seriously. There's clearly a moment when your own
resolve and relying on your own self confidence is important but that's
very different to poncing around and expecting yourself to be universally
Our Community: Who have been your own leadership
mentors and how did they assist in developing your own leadership style?
It sounds like a real cop-out but there have been so many different people
and that's the truth. I find I pick up clues from different people. Sometimes
they can be very large ones but I have not had the one person who has been
an overwhelming influence. It's a case of lots and lots of people in so
many different ways.