Who do you consider to be three great leaders of our time and why?
- Gough Whitlam: Visionary progressive reform that changed people's lives and demonstrated the systemic change that government could bring for women and equality.
- Paul Keating: Visionary reformer who led and influenced opinion polls, not tailoring reforms according to opinion polls - out in front leading and inspiring people in an attempt to bring them with him. Didn't always succeed on the latter.
- Joan Kirner: Did a difficult job as Premier. Not self-centred in her leadership - has done much to ensure women follow in her footsteps and foster the next generation. Treats people as humans in her inclusive style and inspires them about her beliefs.
What are the three attributes you would consider to be essential to a leader?
- Courage and conviction in their own beliefs about the right thing and carrying through;
- Inclusive - brings people with them and open transparent communication;
- Inspiring - inspires and motivates people with their vision.
What are the greatest barriers to new leaders emerging in Australia?
- Discrimination - whether it's gender or race, we're still not fully utilising the talent pool when you see the predominantly white middle class men in senior positions. We're changing with Australia's first female PM, but there's a lot of trickling down to do across a range of sectors.
- Previous generation of leaders still dominating OR only being sought for media comment, hence limited profile opportunities for new and emerging leaders.
- Limited opportunities to shine in mainstream media if you don't fit the mainstream mould - e.g. its seems like mainstream media can only cope with one Muslim (Waleed Aly).
What advice would you give to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?
- Get a mentor.
- Take up opportunities to develop yourself and leadership skills, knowing and refining your weaknesses.
- Build your profile via Twitter to counter mainstream media dominance of entrenched leaders.
What insights have you gained personally and on your leadership journey and how have they impacted on your style of leadership?
- The importance of asking for help - not signs of weakness, but essential as we can't be an expert at everything and things are improved with maximum input.
- Getting the job at hand done is not the only important thing - in my initial leadership roles I was very task-focused. I learnt very quickly about the importance and difference of building relationships with the people I was working with. Treating staff as people and getting to know people is crucial to bringing people with you to get the broader job done.
- Change management is always going to be hard - change management is a dance - you're always going to have people who are resistant to the new moves. Holding your ground and not taking resistance personally (and hence letting go of a desire to be liked all the time) is important. Being respected is essential, so as long as you conduct yourself ethically and maintain open communication, you'll bring people with you.
Who have been your own leadership mentors and how did they assist in developing your own leadership style?
- Former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner - a great role model to watch in action. Very generous with her advice and wisdom.
- Stephanie Lagos - a CEO I worked with who was also very generous and forthcoming with feedback on my own weaknesses.
- Amanda Sinclair, Professor of Management (Diversity and Change), Melbourne Business School - during the St James Ethics Centre's Vincent Fairfax "Ethics in Leadership" Fellowship, I chose to be mentored by Amanda. She gave me terrific feedback and constantly challenged me on my leadership approach and helped me see parallels in my professional and personal relationships that I then did further work on.
The Vincent Fairfax "Ethics in Leadership" Fellowship itself, whilst not a PERSON, was helpful in getting me to question my values, ethics and leadership approach, whilst providing the opportunity to be challenged by people with different values and placing me in different environments (remote mining town and indigenous community) was also crucial.
Thinking about your own leadership journey, what are you most proud of?
I'd change how I've handled change management in the past. I've sometimes taken a silver armour approach of crashing through, when I should have gone at a slower pace and taken people with me.
What I'm most proud of is succeeding Joan Kirner as the National Co-Convenor of EMILY's List and not being intimidated by the big shoes I had to fill and learning that it's OK to do things in my own style. Continuing to grow the organisation's capacity, bring in new blood and still utilise Joan as our Ambassador have been key ingredients of success.
If you had a magic wand what would you change about community life in Australia?
- Community Sector: Greater acknowledgement by government of valuable role. Better pay to reflect work done to be able to bring in people from corporate sector and make it a financially attractive career option as well.
- Community life: Not living in such a fast-paced society with people working long hours at the expense of family and community time. Change culture and workload so that 9-5 is valued and seen as enough!
Published August 2011