John Roskam

As part of our regular segment, Our Community Leaders - Great Australian Leaders in Focus which features the thoughts of some of Australia's great leaders, this month we feature John Roskam.

John Roskam
executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs

This month's interview is with John Roskam, the executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, a free market thinktank. Before joining the IPA in 2004, John taught political theory at the University of Melbourne. He has previously been the executive director of The Menzies Research Centre in Canberra, has been a senior adviser and chief of staff to federal and state education ministers, and was the manager of government and global affairs for a global mining company.

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

John Roskam:
  1. Elaine Henry at the Smith Family - she drove organisational change and presented a vision for an entirely new sort of organisation
  2. Cardinal George Pell - for never shirking from his beliefs and commitments
  3. Geoffrey Blainey - for his intellectual leadership in shaping how Australians see themselves.

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

John Roskam:

Perseverance, vision, ability to communicate.

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

John Roskam:

Narrow-mindedness from opinion makers and a lack of willingness to challenge prevailing orthodoxy.

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

John Roskam:

I think there are two clear leadership challenges facing Australia today - the first one is around climate change because it's about the very survival of this planet and our future - and the second is around Indigenous issues, because I think it goes to the very heart and soul of who we are as a nation. We will never be at peace with ourselves until we fully reconcile with our first people.

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

John Roskam:

  • Seek out and listen to people who know more and are smarter than you
  • Face up to the fact that you'll always make mistakes
  • Don't be afraid to get angry at yourself

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

John Roskam:

Hayward and David Kemp were two education ministers who I worked for. Don always emphasised planning and communication. David was always questioning and engaging while he sought out different viewpoints.

Our Community: Thinking about your own leadership journey, what are you most proud of and what would you change if you had the chance?

John Roskam:

Doubling the size and reach of the Institute of Public Affairs. Wouldn't change anything - everything is a learning experience.

Our Community: If you had a magic wand, what would you change about community life in Australia right now?

John Roskam:

Reduce the government regulation that inhibits the growth of civil society.

Published December 2010