|| 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 speak to Kids Under Cover Executive Director, Petrina Dorrington.
Petrina has a background in hospitality and tourism, having managed
the Inland Queensland Tourism and Development Association, before
beginning work at Kids Under Cover in October 1997 and now is
a member of the Board of Director.
Our Community: Who do you consider
to be the great leaders of our time? And Why?
- Nelson Mandela - had what must have seemed an impossible
dream of a non-apartheid South Africa in the 1950s - this at a time
when the power of the apartheid government was at its peak, and in an
era in global politics which was unenlightened - McCarthyism in the
US, White Australia policy and Aborigines with no vote in Australia.
He pursued this dream determinedly and turned it into reality 40 years
- Bill and Melinda Gates - the world's biggest philanthropists.
Have focused their enormous wealth on supporting initiatives aimed at
curing the leading problem health issues in third world countries. Could
easily have kept on empire building instead.
- She's not famous but… Elsie Dorrington -
my grandmother. Took control of her own destiny in getting out of an
unworkable marriage when it was frowned upon to do so and went back
to work managing a home for intellectually disabled young women. She
became the first female councillor in the Shire of Mornington, with
little resources (she hand-wrote her own how-to-vote cards). She also
initiated a number of social welfare schemes in the Shire.
Our Community: What are the three attributes
you would consider to be essential to a leader? And Why?
- Communication skills - must be able to inspire with
words and deeds in a way that transfers the vision of the leader into
the individual and ultimately collective vision of the group.
- Empathy - great leaders have an instinctive feel
for what it is like to be in the shoes and minds and hearts of the people
they are with. They use this knowledge to communicate their messages
more effectively, understand the motivations behind the actions, and
detect the changing winds of people moods.
- Patience and Determination - Because life never
goes according to plan.
Our Community: What are the three greatest
barriers to new leaders emerging in Australia?
- Apathy - Mass media such as TV has had a lot to
do with this. When life becomes difficult and stressful or there are
confusing issues to sort out it is often the case that people de-stress
- aka "zone out", "veg out" or "tune out" in front of the TV. For many
this occupies hours of their days. This passive mode where actions occur
at a distance by other people on the TV has the effect of making people
more apathetic while at the same time reducing the time they might have
spent in active mode actually doing things to improve society.
- Cynicism - It is often said that a cynic is a failed
romantic. The romantic side of Australians likes to believe that we
are the lucky country where anything can be achieved. The flip-side
is that if personal achievements don't occur, if life gets hard, then
cynicism sets in. And it's much easier to cut 10 tall poppies down than
help grow one new one. Hence this favorite national sport becomes an
- Fear - Mass media has figured out that fear sells
perhaps even more so than sex. If an editor has to decide which will
grace the front page - a major triumph in science or a graphic car accident
- we all know which will win. While fear is a natural, healthy emotion
that protects us and has helped us to evolve as a species, if there
is an over-emphasis on it through the mass media, the end results can
be community destroying. Hence the rise of gated communities in the
US , the mandatory detention regime for refugees who look different
to us, etc.
Our Community: What advice would you
give to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?
Dorrington: Take risks, praise lavishly when it's
due, provide constructive feedback when things go wrong, have fun!
Our Community: Nature/nurture - are
leaders born or bred?
qualities are in everyone. Parents are leaders, as are teachers, netball
coaches etc. Leadership should not be seen as the domain of people in
the public eye - politicians, business people, sports heroes - but as
an everyday activity that is the responsibility of everyone to engage
in. If there is an accident and someone arrives and gets straight to work
helping the injured and clearing the danger, that person is in leadership
mode to the people they are saving. Similarly, a parent who is faced with
a difficult decision about a child who wants to go to a teenage rave party.
So leadership qualities are innate, but we need to understand them and
learn how best to use them and keep refining them through constant use.
Our Community: What do you consider
to be the three top leadership issues facing the nation?
- Detention centres. These should be abolished in
favour of Refugee Centres. If people are found to be guilty of a crime,
these are what prisons are for. But until then, they are innocent and
should be treated with dignity and respect. When our children grow up,
they will say "Why did you let this happen?"
- Encouraging a philanthropic culture. The boom in
house prices and the stockmarket has made many people richer than they
would have thought possible a decade ago. Part of this newfound wealth
should be directed towards helping others; not through taxes where decisions
on how it will be spent will be decided by bureaucrats in treasury,
but by the people themselves about issues in their community or globally
that they feel passionate about. In many countries, philanthropy is
part of the everyday culture. We have quite a way to go in Australia
- Education. The windfall surpluses that the
Federal and State Governments now enjoy should be directed where they
will provide the greatest leverage for Australia - education. Spending
$3 billion to provide better phone access or $3 billion to our schools
and universities. A no-brainer.
Our Community: What insights have you
gained personally on your leadership journey?
Dorrington: Anything is achievable if you are passionate,
determined and willing to learn from others. Things that seem impossible
to achieve are possible if you keep chipping away.
Building a team of staff who are as passionate as I am has been critical.
This involves giving people opportunities to be creative and to make their
own decisions about what they do with their role within the organisation.
You can't achieve anything without support, so I always give credit for
successes to those who deserve it. I also admit when I have made a wrong
It's important to create a work environment where people don't feel pressured
to keep their family issues at home. This includes enabling staff to take
time off at odd, unscheduled times during the normal working week. I introduced
a nine-day fortnight to provide my hardworking staff with a better quality
of life. I've found that instead of losing productivity, staff work very
hard and with even more commitment and enthusiasm as a result.
Our Community: Who have been
your own leadership mentors and how did they assist in developing
your own leadership style?
- My partner Lex , who keeps believing in me on the
days when I don't! I couldn't survive without his support, advice and
- Ken Morgan , founder of Kids Under Cover - his passion
and enthusiasm are infectious. He made me realise that ordinary people
can make the impossible possible.
- All my close female friends - they are an amazing
group of women with diverse interests who have been supportive, insightful
and instructive whenever I have needed them to be.
Published October 2006
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