What's Good Australian Leadership for the 2020s?

Before the pandemic, three-year Australian Leadership Project research concluded that there was a combination of 3 qualities of leadership that distinguished the typical good Australian leader - egalitarianism, self-effacing humour and plain speaking. 

Emerging from the pandemic and fear, we know people want optimism and hope.  What do they want of their leaders?

Commencing November 2021, we sought to update our research with Australians having endured almost two years of the COVIOD pandemic. 

We started with a web survey, "What's Good Australian Leadership in the 2020s?"

The Questions we asked were:

  • What do Australians want of their leaders or bosses?
  • Who have been the leaders in your life's journey? Who has inspired you?
  • What's your favourite story of a leader or boss you have worked with?
  • What are the qualities of Australian leadership and leaders which differentiate us globally?
  • Do you agree that the 2020s demands realistic and infectiously optimistic leadership?

Please Take Our Australian Leadership Survey

What do Australians want of their leaders today? 

wordcloud - what do Australians want of their leaders (1)

It's interesting how many of the answers revert back to commentary on political leadership rather than leadership more generally.

"Strong but empathetic leaders focused on 'common-sense' solutions."

"To be honest, I am at a loss of what Australian's want of their leaders and for their country. As an Australian, I want greater accountability, vision and aspiration in leadership and the capability to inspire and enable the country to become something better, and then to become something great on the world stage (beyond sport or commodities exports)."

"Strong but empathetic leaders focused on 'common-sense' solutions."

"To be honest, I am at a loss of what Australian's want of their leaders and for their country. As an Australian, I want greater accountability, vision and aspiration in leadership and the capability to inspire and enable the country to become something better, and then to become something great on the world stage (beyond sport or commodities exports)."

Honest, compassionate and empathetic leaders that act today on behalf of the future and don't obfuscate on their responsibility.

"Honesty and realistic. if it's bad news, tell it as it is- then inspire and tell us how to work towards making things right/better."

Leaders that are fair-minded and don't just 'tow the company (or party) line'. Leaders that will listen - intently.

"Honest, decisive strong leadership. Less trickiness, less party politics."

Of course we want realistic and optimistic leaders, but more than ever we need trust in our leaders. That Australia's prime minister is facing multiple accusations of lying, the extreme policy backflipping (Australia's performance at Cop27!), the loose standards of our political leaders and their failure or lack of will to address the toxic sexist culture of Australia's political bubble - Australian's deserve and need better leadership than this.

Authentic, grounded, realistic, accountable, adaptable/agile, longer term thinkers

Optimistic, honest, curious, caring, authentic, empathy


Honesty, commitment, legality, concern for all constituents - not just their own supporters.

Honesty, Integrity, Self aware, Interested in mentoring others, Visionary

Strategic, holistic thinking grounded in solid research and widespread consultation with all elements of Australian society. And then CONSISTENCY and sensitivity to other countries' interests.

Decisive, caring, resilient, positive

As listed previously, honesty - that is real honesty, integrity, logical, having courage, humility and humbleness and the acknowledgement of all people and treating them all equally.

Clear, strong and inclusive leadership

Practice what they preach. No warmongering with US.

Honesty, humility, authenticity, dependability, competency

A vision. Honesty. Strong values. A Story which everyone can follow. An opinion. I feel our government leaders are protecting votes and not leading by vision or by values or by encouragement or hope. None are sharing a credible story based on values and pragmatic outcomes.

No more woke extremism.

Honesty and integrity

Someone to inspire willing followship, and earn our respect and trust. We are so short of inspiring leaders. Elections should not be about the least worst option!

Honesty, Integrity, Plain speaking

I wish I knew. I know what I myself want - people confident in their competence who are also forward-looking.

I want people I can trust, who speak plainly but honestly. who show their humanity and compassion, but ultimately will make decisions and communicate the rationale for those decisions clearly.

Honesty and humility

honesty authentic strategic

Integrity and positive values that uphold the common good

Honesty, integrity and bravery to act with skill in the best interests of all. To avoid 'leading' for the sake of votes, for the self-interest of the party, or for the vested interests of a powerful and privileged minority. Long-term objectives with short-term actions that make our world and our society a better place while protecting and uplifting the most vulnerable. The vision, charisma and optimism that will cause other countries to want our collaboration and defer to our thinking and values. This works as much for trade and economic success as it does for political stability and social equity. Redefine 'progress' to be for a better world for ALL and not just greater wealth for the wealthy at any cost.

truth, and proper representation of Australian interests

Action orientated and hand on

Honesty and Transparency Inclusive & Egalitarian Vision for the future for the betterment of business and society Compassionate about the well-being of people and planet Responsibility

Integrity, Global and national Vision with long term planning and real accountability.

Truth, integrity, vision

Honesty, Truthfulness, Respect, Accountability, Realism, Compassion, and a Commitment to contribute to saving the Planet. Less' marketing' and more substance

Truth & honesty based on factfulness not spin or self-supporting evidence Trustworthiness To be told the hard stuff with a plan/action path for going forward Collaboration across expertise groups/beyond party politics to see long term strategy for the greater good's benefit

Truth (look at the political situation, both sides, people are sick of it), empathy, a real plan (not a slogan). Leaders they can trust

More action on climate change. Integrity and a federal ICAC More female leaders

Vulnerability - the ability to admit what we don't know and what we fear, with reassurance that there is a plan and/or there will be a solution. Honesty - what are we good at? What do we need to be better at? What have we failed at? Who/what helped with the successes?

Trust. Empowerment. Authenticity

Truth and Independence.

Take charge and be clear about mapping out a positive long term future for the country.

compassion, clarity and delivery

We want leaders who will listen - it is important for people to know they have been heard, even if the decision does not go their way. We want leaders who are honest, keep their word, who recognise and acknowledge the efforts of the team, and who are committed to working just as hard as everyone else on the team to achieve the goals, vision and mission that inspires staff.

Honesty and realism.

reassurance administrative competency putting the needs of their constituents above their personal aspirations

Someone who will lead: to bring everyone together to work together

Ability to take responsibility for consequences of their actions & decisions.

Some empathy, flexibility, and support

To be a leader you need to have people who want to follow. This may be by inspiring them, a joint goal, supportive and fair.

Great leadership

Leaders who are intelligent and forward thinking. Leaders who are able to provide a narrative that encapsulates the diverse Nation we must be in 2022 and beyond. They will need to be brave rather than cowardly.

Budget transparency Health advice based on science

Honesty. Listening. Connected & understanding.

People who actually lead without an agenda. Who are honest, truthful and transparent


See above. HONEST with respect for independent institutions that uphold democracy such as a Federal Integrity commission.

A truthful commitment to permanently eliminate poverty that the Government currently imposes. An end to the fallacious policies of mutual obligation and reversal of the privatization in the community and human service industries.

Vision and honesty with humility

We need more than realism - we need hope, innovation and fresh ideas about what can be if we use our combined energy. Incrementalism, on issues like climate change, won't be enough.

Strong leadership, moral and honest

Respectful of the community and their colleagues; to be trustworthy and honourable in their dealings; to have empathy for suffering and wisdom to work with experts to create sustainable vision

Positivity and honesty

To be truthful, understanding of the people and listen to us

truthfulness and transparency

vision that majority buy into, want to work towards... less identity/victim minority pansying around

Honesty and vision.

Climate action, ethical behaviour, vision.

Less American, more truthful, less jargon

Integrity, transparency, saying no to all political donations. Planning for 5 generations and at least 50+ years not 4.

To be honest about challenges and opportunities and the pain or cost of grabbing hold do them and making the change that means to be made.

They want real people giving real solutions to real problems. Leaders need to show that they are in service to others

Emotional Intelligence and empathy

Honesty, . Authenticity and practical immediate sense of direction not polemics and politics

Consistency (very difficult with social media) and inclusion

To support the nation and not follow 'vested interest causes'

Honesty, professional actions and doing their homework before they open their mouths.

Courage, pragmatism, humanity, clarity

Truth, no bullshit, empathy, always learning, applying modern ideas and of course optimistic!

Australians demand truth from our leaders, and by this I mean authenticity: practice what you preach! We want our leaders to demonstrably act in accordance with their values, as well as the values of this great nation. We expect good leaders to lead by example, and to listen actively and respectfully from us. We want out leaders to take a team approach, keeping in mind that the best leaders enhance and promote the skills, talents and achievements of their team rather than their own. We want our leaders to be "human", to be approachable and compassionate, to us and to those they encounter. Australians are not ready to sit by and let our global reputation be destroyed by leaders who do not represent what this nation stands for: a democratic, ethical, equitable, reasonable and respectful world moving into the 2020s.

Common sense, no spin, strategies. EQ is more powerful than IQ as we enter the mid 21st century, and modern day leader that does not identify this will not last very long. Collaboration and innovation will be key features of our future leaders

more honesty, plain speaking and a sense of purpose in the future

We have to reset our engagement with Asia and calm down a little - our blunt language is not helping.

Honesty, ethical behaviour, care for employee wellbeing, being treated as human, respectful, considerate, mentor and coaching, development opportunities

Swift & strategic decision making, the creation of 'super' teams that work collaboratively and utilise their unique strengths/skills

To stop the spin, speak the truth in all matters and to embrace the climate reality

Authentic leadership, dialogue and decisive direction settings

Someone who is genuine, outlines their values and abides by them, is open to new ideas and approaches.

Honest, competent and authentic with substantial doses of kindness and compassion

Honesty, Hope, Future forward thinking, compassion to others

Honesty, Integrity, Empathy

Sound fiscal management - consistently. One party does this better than the other! Projection of positive mindset to the ratepayers.

work together, lead don't follow, belief that Australia can be a leader in may fields

Honesty and transparency A long term vision and plan for the nations future Determination to make unpopular decisions

Diverse in line with our population; in touch with the lives of diverse Australians; caring about all people here and elsewhere on the planet, and the planet itself and all of nature upon which we depend for our survival; committed to human rights including for indigenous people; honest. Completely different from the leaders we currently have.

Realistic but exciting inspiration Realistic assessment of VUCA environments and impact on Inertia Optimism Motivation and Evidence based decision making

Transparency, honesty and empathy

A Vision for now and the future Integrity - including Openness and Transparency Trust Respect Fairness Empathy Capacity to "lead" and take people with them - Walking the Talk

there are silos of confusion everywhere

Leadership by example Courage to make mistakes Playing the long game - long term thinking and action Selfless sense of duty to others A positive attitude. One who scans for good ideas and builds on them for the benefit of all.

a chance to show that they can achieve more when given space to fly. definitely no micro management

We want visionary, educated, cultured, informed, honest, responsible, empathetic, accountable, strong leaders, more women politicians particularly in the conservative spectrum of politics who can lead from a female perspective.

More dynamic, optimistic and driven to move forward

Real leadership, not driven by party donors or preference buddies. Leadership for the good of the people that is informed by science and reason. I'm dreaming right :) In a democratic system where misinformation is rife and bias confirmation thrives thanks to algorithms, people vote with self interest, political parties focus on gaining and retaining power, it's hard to remain optimistic.

Honesty, energy and ambition, integrity, collaboration and being able to make tough but right decisions quickly.

the truth, their passion and their supporting hand to lift those who need help

honesty, consistency, genuine enthusiasm, recognise others contributions

Simply, leadership

They want them to be progressive and take hard long term decisions that benefit all Australians not just interest groups like the coal lobby that are corrupting the democratic process. Donations to political parties should be anonymous. Laws need to change!

HONESTY. I think more than optimism (although important) authentic, transparent, honest leadership that you can count on... and trust.

Honesty, courage, hope, reliability, intelligence, respect

During critical times raise above politics point scoring, think globally and go beyond. I dare saying beyond states divisive politics, it is very toxic and COVID exposed that big way, get read of the state system I dare saying. Do we really need 7 governments and 7 elections for 25 M people, challenging but essential to embrace. may be I am a head of the conventional thinking which fairly common trait in in our nation politics and psyche.

Trustworthy and transparent, informed, consultative, ability to communicate important issues to everyone and vision

To serve the publics best interests not their own

Effective leadership through the process of engaging the concerted efforts of willing followers. Engagement is the key. Leaders must build organisations, government and nations by building its people. The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is most apt, although there could be an Australian proverb which could be applied if I could find one. Leaders must make working with them intrinsically rewarding as well as productive, by building a culture of open mindedness and a spirit of continuous improvement.

Honesty!!!!!!! Moral Courage Altruism - public good before private interest

Plain speaking of the truth, vision for the future, ability to communicate good and bad news, TAKE THEIR EYES OFF THE ELECTORAL CYCLE

Strong decisive leadership leading from the front.

leaders that bring people together focusing on cooperation and collaboration not division and identity politics

Trust, transparency, realism, intelligence

Empathy, confidence and optimism

A vision for Australia's future and a strategy to get there

Act for the people, not corporations and lobby groups.


Honesty, transparency, inclusiveness and integrity.

Someone to actually lead. Not just pander to the media and do the same as everyone else. I would like them to be intelligent and have common sense.

Authenticity. Pragmatism. OPTIMISM

That they provide clear and easy to understand direction that is Honest that will lead us forward and not focus on the negative impact from the other side of politics. Many leaders have lost respect by not providing honest comment.

Consistency of messaging, positive or negative. It gives us a measure of your strength and integrity under pressure. (When it matters)

Humour and good leadership

They want them to be present and to actively listen to what they have to say.

Honesty, Optimism, Doers and completers, empathetic, kindness, forward thinkers, understanding and fixing now.

Openness positivity clarity support trust empathy - knowing what is expected then being encouraged and allowed to do it

To speak with one voice

An ability to offer social emotional intelligence, social cohesion, share vulnerability, build trust with partners, engage with interpersonal relationships and a genuine connection with people from grass roots

Commitment to vision. Strength to resist trends or get caught up in a wave of populism. Strength to resist social media onslaughts.

Honesty and integrity


To be true to their word and be able to trust them

Truth Actions of integrity People willing to actually lead

Ability to articulate a cohesive and inclusionary national vision Substance in consultative policy development and implementation Real environmental action Equitable (re)development of social and physical infrastructure Excellence in international relationships, especially regionally

Optimism i.e. a sense of hope, of possibility, of being prepared to try new things.

Truth, Trust and Transparency.

leaders who can lead by example. to be flexible and empathetic but consistent with the decisions. to be open and honest with their staff but able to step up and have the hard conversations when needed.

Honesty and realism.

Truth; no double speak; honesty; act in the best interest of the public, not in their own or their party's best interests

Action on climate change. Honesty, humility and passion to make positive change that helps create opportunity did all members of society.

Common sense

Less BS and more genuine sincerity


honesty positiveness

Not sure

Honesty, integrity, open communication, genuine egalitarian attitude toward all Australians, good humour, love and optimism

The truth and the capacity to lead beyond the next sound bite. Australia needs a vision

Pragmatism, truth and optimism going forward.

Open communication, honesty, lead by example, empathetic, willing to step up.

Being able to make tough decisions while displaying empathy

Say it how it is. Have some big goals. Have a purpose, more than just being leader.

Leadership - the ability to inspire - but also to make the tough decisions

Clear and consistent communication that people understand the why

Statesmanship. A leader who does not criticise and provides vision for lifting the nation to being regarded as the happiest, most realistic and restful in the world.

to have support everyone, and to be able to role model. The right behaviour

transparency accountability pragmatism trustworthy and as honest as possible


To lead and be honest, truthful, compassionate, solve problems and bring results.

A plan that leads the world in climate awareness and woman's equality

Truth and heart

Authenticity; openness and transparency and willing to make unpopular decisions

been seen and heard; integrity

Honesty, integrity, leadership from the trenches, not self interest, genuine coaching of mentoring of the people around them to achieve a team outcome. vision and courage to dream big and dream bold and then inspire the people around them that the impossible can be possible.. Ted Lasso style leadership.

Leadership rather than management. Vision rather than fear.


Care more about our environment.

I want the leasers to become servant leaders and to understand that people are exhausted from being told what to do rather than open honest conversations to be held

honest leader who focus on long term prosperity of the country and not focusing on re-election

I don't see great visible leadership in Australia -especially political leadership at the moment. But we need optimistic, inclusive and positive leadership-to help people have a sense of confidence and hope

To address their concerns and issues also get their feedback often.

Trust, reliability & empathy

Informed and decisive. Trustworthy REAL!!!

Empathy but Tell it how it is,

Honesty, Vision

To speak truth, exercise humility, have a positive vision and be able to explain it in plain speaking terms, be a good role model

Plain speaking, unbiased, inclusive realism with a touch of Aussie humour. rather than divisive catchphrases and spin.

Commitment and Truth

Good communication Strategy for the way forward Realistic promises Strong leadership

Empathic role models. No BS promises.

People that they can look to, to guide them in an uncertain and fast changing environment

Fairness, open-mindedness and optimism

They want honesty. Effective truth communication they want support and to be heard and listen. To

Courage to lead and compassion to understand.

Truth, transparency, flexibility and humanity

Openness, honesty and vision

They want them to LEAD, not manage; be engaging and connected; and visionary.

Honesty and showing empathy

They want leaders who tell the truth, have strategic vision, avoid short termism, listen to their communities and have the gumption to make the hard decisions when required.

ability to deliver change


Empathetic, no-nonsense, inclusive attitude, respectful and supportive of diversity ( in all respects ), outcomes focussed and prepared to take a collaborative approach to decision-making.

Vision Practical solutions, not just scaremongering Integrity Mutuality Reciprocity


The truth, and to respect the intrinsic value of the individual

Clarity about direction and way to get there. Communication in times of uncertainty. Consistency in behaviour and focus. Empowerment & Trust.

Face up to the real challenges we face - e.g. Climate Change

Real people Honest

Honesty, inclusivity, pragmatic representation and to serve the public whom elected them

Genuine, truthful, far-sighted and inclusive


Leaders who will admit they have knowledge gaps and seek to fill them with those around them. Leaders who can admit it when they make a mistake and learn from their mistake, not lie and try to cover it up.

Empathy, understanding, good communication skills. No politics or games. Someone who has a high degree of honesty, integrity and kindness. Someone who is creative and inspiring to help get through these tough times. Someone who can smile.

Transparency, positivity, inspiration and a calming persona

A strong leadership that is based on the values of the land and of the people. That is deeply rooted in the betterment of their people and not just an advancement of self

Honest and with a vision. Not narcissistic.

realistic management of climate & energy policies


Visionary. Thinking ahead. Laying plans to achieve those visions and explaining them to the electorate

Honesty. And of our political leaders, playing the ball, not the man.

Leadership and a shared vision that transcends the re-election cycle, can be implemented in a timely (10 - 20 years) fashion and can response to a changing society and environment.


Mostly clarity, determination, honesty and compassion. No more lies, cowardice and .self-interest

Honesty, authenticity, bravery

Honesty, deep knowledge about all issues, foresight, good/meaningful communication - not grab notes or talking down to public and appealing to the best qualities in humans to do better - for our planet and fellow humans.

honesty, not self interest politics , and bi partisan agreements

Honesty and integrity. Putting the countries needs in front of their own ego.

Honesty, integrity and realistic.

Compassion, honesty, plain speaking, ability to unite, collaboration, understanding and appreciating diverse perspectives

Truth. Vision. Integrity. Capability. Compassion. Intellect.


Practical leadership and a focus on a better, more sustainable future

People that actively listen, make considered decisions, admit fault if required, provide support, be fair, and have conversations.

I think Australians want opportunity, openness, encouragement and curiosity. These things blend well; to bring a leader who will listen, support, and enable.

Honesty Integrity Ethical behaviour Show signs of humility, learning mindset, growth / abundance mindset Greater courage to speak up when social justice & sustainability values are at risk

Leaders who understand that trust is built word by word and action by action.

Clear direction and leadership, visible response to public feedback and interests, lead by example

Authenticity, Respect . Communication, Consistency , Growth Mindset



I've always lamented that despite the research, Aussie leaders are not good mentors (compared to my experience of US leaders). They don't spend time getting to know their teams and understanding how they can help their teams to succeed (in the office or in life) - this is a major failing of many Aussie leaders, who are more focused on looking up the chain of command and too busy to truly invest in and champion their people. Today, people want more, they want purpose and flexibility and a boss who says "what do you want from life" and how can we fit work around that and make work work for you?

Fair /firm and looking to future

realism, positivity

What Australians want is not realistic- often contradictory and infected by the tall poppies syndrome.

Honesty and transparency. We know the world is different today to 12 or even 18 months ago. We panicked when COVID hit, resilience surfaced but as an outcome, we know what we want to hear. People are tired of the positive narrative, we just need honesty. Are we good? Yes or No? Cut the crap and puffery. Basically, tell us everything and what we can do to make things better. If we're up for the challenge, we'll hang about but if not, we have options. Don't hang us out to dry.

Thought leadership and looking to a future beyond the short termism of the election cycle

Transparency, and assurance. Also a honest and real approach (They also like it when there boss is their biggest promoter

Competence. Honesty. Accountability. Reason.

What I want is integrity and positive action on Climate Change. Also positive action on Aged Care. No more lies!!!

Someone with a clear and great vision who is brave enough to advance it notwithstanding party politics.

Inspiration, hope and support

Honesty, accountability

someone who can inspire and supports people a person who is relatable not a yes man or woman. A leader who will stand up and be counted on issues such as the environment, how we work.

Leadership, which means change management, direction , vision, risk,

Inspiring vision and due diligence

Integrity Realism Optimism

Realism and Inspiration to bring people along with them. I think we look for a realistic balance of optimism and pragmatism.

Honesty and future planning

good work ethic

Honesty, Optimism, Consultative, Strategic thinkers

A visible & vocal passion for their business and for their employees. Visibility and a strong personal connection to their workforce

Authentic leaders who provide a purpose for their staff

Integrity, listen and act on to scientific input, transparency

the best quality a leader can do is to lead by example when there is work to be done get in and help if there is a shortage of staff that can't be filled fill it your self communicate truthfully to your staff have a home and a laugh and buy morning tea or lunch it's not much but to an employee you gain there adoration and respect and they want to lead like the example you show

"Merely to perform their duty."

Please Take Our Australian Leadership Survey





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