Antony O'Donnell

Pictured: Antony O'Donnell

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 chat, this month, to Vici Funnel

Vici Funnell

Vici was the Chief Executive Officer of Scope (formerly the Spastic Society of Victoria), the Vice Chair of ACROD Victoria and Director of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association. Vici is also a Rotarian, an Honorary member of the Harvard Club, Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Fellow of the Australian College of Health Services Executives. She was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to the community.

Our Community: Who do you consider to be the three great leaders of our time?

Vici Funnell:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi - because he showed that major change can be achieved by using non-violent means.
  2. Mary Robinson - because she has demonstrated that it is possible to be a politician and be principled and ethical.
  3. Nelson Mandela - for his strength of mind, grace under pressure and visionary leadership.

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

Vici Funnell:
  1. Vision - A leader needs to know where they are leading people to and be able to paint a picture for the followers that will inspire, engage and challenge them to give of their best.
  2. Courage - The capacity to face and get past obstacles and disappointments and to assist the other members of the team to get back up and try again when things do not go as planned. The courage to stay with the long view and not go for short term but unsustainable quick wins.
  3. Integrity - not pig-headedness but the capacity to see and grasp the real issues and interpret them to those who follow - and the insight to know and accept the consequences of acting with integrity.

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

Vici Funnell:

I think this is a profound challenge at present, as many leaders have their success measured using short-term economic indicators to the exclusion of any other measures. In the longer term we will realise that this is unsustainable and is also unsatisfying for the human beings we lead.

So perhaps the barriers are:
  1. A lack of capacity to come to grips with the complexity of the world that we operate in so that leadership is judged on inadequate measures.
  2. Our remoteness and a certain arrogance which can prevent us from using the learning from great intellectual thinkers and leaders elsewhere in the world.
  3. Human frailty in the form of ambition and selfishness.

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

Vici Funnell:

What has worked for me has been to create a vision with all stakeholders, listen and discuss ideas and remember that old saying that perseverance pays.

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

Vici Funnell:

Probably a bit of both. But good leaders need to have encouragement, good role models and training to perform at their best.

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

Vici Funnell:
  1. Australia needs to have a strong set of national values, not just a catch phrase - and then live by them. Short-term thinking and expedient behaviour by political leaders is unacceptable.
  2. The adversarial nature of our political and industrial relations environment stops real examination of key long-term issues and is slowing or absolutely preventing the reform needed to address social and environmental challenges.
  3. The changing world environment and its impact on both Australia and the rest of the world and our accountability for and response to this at a local and world level.

Our Community: What insights have you gained personally on your leadership journey and how have they impacted on your style of leadership?

Vici Funnell:

It is a great gift to be allowed to lead and to be able to work for a great cause. Success is the result of the efforts of many people who choose to bring their great talents together to achieve a goal they believe in. When people are engaged to work together on something that really excites them, mountains can be moved.

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

Vici Funnell:
  • My dad, who was a modest but very principled man.
  • Some wonderful lecturers at University of New South Wales, when I studied for my Masters Degree in particular Professor Dexter Dunphy who helped me to become more aware and reflective.
  • Many other people, some of whom I only met through books but many of whom are friends, including some remarkable, courageous and bright people that I have come to know since I started to work at Scope

Published February 2006