Jim Cavaye 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, this month we feature, Cavaye Community Development Dr Jim Cavaye.

Dr Jim Cavaye

Jim is an accomplished practitioner, educator and researcher in community development with 20 years experience working with rural and regional communities and a Ph.D. in community development.

Our Community: Who do you consider to be a great leader of our time? Why?

Dr Jim Cavaye:

  • Martin Luther King - he was able to articulate the basic needs of a whole people and showed enormous courage in doing so.
  • Mohammed Yunus, Founder of the Grameen Bank - he linked economic independence with community values and personal development and empowered the poor, particularly women.
  • Tony Blair - he created a bold vision for Britain and worked across divisions to orient government to help communities make change.

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

Dr Jim Cavaye:

  • Understanding - the first step in fostering change is to understand how things are. Leaders must also have compassion and understand the situation, views and reactions of people.
  • Developing shared leadership - the best leaders are those that foster the leadership that we all have. They help people recognise their own assets rather than deficits and develop communities that have leadership rather than those that are led.
  • Persistence - leaders have stamina and tenacity not only to cope with adversity and disappointments. They also follow through on changes in communities that, because of their complexity and difficulty, naturally take a long time.

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

    Dr Jim Cavaye:
  • Self-deprecation - It is one thing to be humble but in Australia , I see a lot of self-depreciation at the personal and community level. A parallel "drought" in regional Australia is that of confidence.
  • The distortion of profile - having "profile" is important to having influence and some wonderful shared leaders have developed a strong profile. However, our focus on personal "celebrity" has meant that some people with profile are not leaders and some wonderful community leaders are not recognised, limiting their influence.
  • Making it happen - real leaders not only have an innovative idea and develop others but they also make things happen "on the ground". For leadership to emerge we need better ways for people to access support.

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

    Dr Jim Cavaye:
  • Find a mentor. My life was touched by a wonderful mentor who was a sounding board, a "coach" and frankly, an inspiration. Having people like this with you gives leaders a "gyroscope" and the support to try new things and think boldly.
  • Have a go! - if you have an idea or a "dream", so often it remains just that. Actually deciding to start something, and having a clear plan, and taking the first step is often the key to big things happening.

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

Dr Jim Cavaye:
Born and bred - I believe that everyone has leadership in them. That is, everyone has some vision, some persistence, some ability to work with others, some courage. Some people have more than others but the true nature of leadership is to bring out the leadership that is in others.

Often the natural leadership that we all have to various degrees is stifled by circumstance, by us thinking we have no leadership and other people are "leaders", and sometimes perceived "leaders" stifle leadership in others. It is important for the natural leadership across communities to be encouraged and fostered by making it easy for people to participate, by equalising power in communities, by having functional organisations, by respecting and valuing diversity and by supporting and encouraging people at the personal level.

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

Dr Jim Cavaye:

  • Reconciliation - Despite Mabo, native title and the reconciliation movement, we still have a long way to go. Reconciliation needs to reach the level of mainstream Australia appreciating Aboriginal people, understanding their situation, institutional change and access to land, and the development of personal friendship and "rubbing shoulders" between black and white people. Developing this fundamental understanding and trust is a crucial leadership challenge.

  • Reinventing Local Government - local government is in the best position to foster vibrant communities and social change at the grassroots level. Many local governments consist of genuine community representatives and dedicated staff. However, many local governments focus on cost minimisation and see their role only as infrastructure and social service provision, rather than as also fostering leadership and entrepreneurship in their communities. Achieving this double role - service provision and community strengthening - at the same time, with limited funds, is a critical leadership challenge.

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

Dr Jim Cavaye:

I have come to appreciate that my strong suite is having what I think are great ideas, but there has been ample evidence of not being able to follow through and focus on solid outcomes. It is something I am trying hard to balance.


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

Dr Jim Cavaye:

My mentor was Ron Shaffer, my university professor and the Director of the Centre for Community Economic Development in the US . His most powerful influence was that he believed in me and offered unconditional support. He also struggled and suffered through terminal illness and his example of humility and dignity is his greatest lesson.

Published February 2007