Before the pandemic, the Australian Leadership Project 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?
In our survey, What's Good Australian Leadership for the 2020s?, we asked "What's your favourite story of a leader or boss you have worked with?"
“At the Sydney Vietnam welcome home march as we gathered ready to set off many of the troops were grumbling about giving eyes right to the then PM Bob Hawke. Just before we set off Mick said quietly we are moving ff now when we get to the Town Hall everybody will give an eyes right on my command. And everyone did.”
“Observing Bob Hawke lobby a succession of Liberal Ministers in the Fraser Cabinet in seeking their support for Wage Justice on Christmas Island. In meeting with 6 Ministers of varying intellectual capacity Hawke would adjust his pitch to the capacity and "smarts" of the Minister pirouetting on a sixpence when he assessed whether the Minister could absorb all 10 points in a complex brief or whether he should just hit the 3 point version. The art of persuasion!”
“Alan Veal was my 'boss' for 6 years and continually poured trust in me as consultant. This gave me great confidence in my abilities.”
“Paul Johnson as VC of La Trobe was a visionary who also managed the detail but had impeccable integrity - always focused on what was best for students.”
“Hans Vestberg, my mentor at Ericsson, globally. Hans is now the Chair and CEO of Verizon, following his decision to leave the race for CEO Microsoft. He impressed upon me; true leadership qualities of drawing on his own personality and experiences with honour and truth: authenticity.”
Dr Cherie Hugo, who gets up every day and goes again. She has a purpose that is now her mission and all from a few residents at a nursing home 9 years ago asked her "can you fix it, you have to make it better Cherie." Through adversity, knock backs, naysayers, people leaving to follow others, she is still here and pushing on. And she does this with the most amazing smile every day!
Dr Luc Mulimbalimba - uses hope, optimism and the assistance of others to help people in the DRC with real life solutions that are practical and responsible
Every and I say EVERY person I have worked for has been diagnose-able as either a narcissist or a psychopath or a combination of the 2 ... so it's been more a tale of escaping with my sanity than being able to give a positive favourite story ... sad indictment on 30 years of work history
Frances Diver - brave, integrity, smart, who could see why in the COVID-19 Wave 2 crisis in Victoria last year that we needed to do the public health responses to COVID differently. And made it happen so we now have local public health units across Victoria.
“Frank Blount, for turning Telecom Australia into Telstra with almost complete buy-in from employees. Was a wonderful tenure.”
“David Thodey - after a very turbulent few years with the previous CEO, David calmed the relationships between the board, the government, the senior leadership team and the employees. He re-focused all efforts on the customers. It was an inspiring time in the company's leadership.”
Frank Peach - Former DG of Education. He told me to "seek forgiveness, not permission."
“A leader who I have learned so very much from is Professor Helen Skouteris, now at SPHPM at Monash University. I had the good fortune of having her, in 2004, in my undergraduate studies of developmental psychology. In one particular lecture, she opened up and shared a story about her young son. He had been around 6-7 years old at the time of the World Trade Centre bombings, and despite Helen's efforts to shield him from the disturbing images in the media, this little boy was to see footage of one of the planes flying into the World Trade Centre. Helen, with great animation, described her son's hysterical laughter: "Mummy", he said "that plane just ran right out of space!". Helen was explaining to us various aspects of cognitive development, and used her own experience to impart knowledge on young 1st year students which I recall vividly even today. Fast forward 17 years, and Helen is the director of the Health and Social Care Unit, at the school where I am undertaking my doctorate. I met with her last month, to discuss my career prospects, and her warmth had not dissipated in spite of her tremendous achievements and career. Helen and others I have had the tremendous privilege of working with, have inspired and motivated me to become the person I am today.”
Lord Browne who in 2000, mandated carbon counting throughout the BP facilities and who promoted diversity; women in leadership; continuing education and anti ageism in the BP Group workforce
LtCol Des Mueller as the Commanding Officer of the School of Artillery inspired learning from his officers. He delivered a stirring "we must be both men of Sparta and men of Athens" address at a a Regimental Dinner in 1984 which has been remembered by all who attended! He challenged us to learn new words each day, and use them in practice. He encouraged extra curricular learning in the military profession. And he had a dry wit and ready smile.
Malcolm Taylor, gently gently catchy monkey
Many of Kay Patterson's stories
“Brian Dixon standing up against Bolte to oppose capital punishment and then launching Life.Be in it to address lining term chronic disease.”
“Max De Pree - given to me by my boss Ken Loughnan AO. Gave me a pathway to conceptualise my own leadership style and began my journey”
“Christine Holgate. Has been willing to challenge the status quo and has achieved outcomes by inspiring team members and actually looking after them + by creating an exceptional atmosphere and values within a team of 800 people.”
“Colin Gilbert was a senior consulting engineer at IBM who was humble, curious and tenacious in leading his team to solve complex project challenges. He would scratch his head and say there is a solution in here just waiting to be found but it is hiding from us where must we look to find it?”
“Craig Dunn taking every Wednesday afternoon off to train his sons basket ball team.”
“Delys Sargeant - having faith in my skills that she hired me and many times "dropped me in the deep end" having faith I could swim and not sink! - including conducting the Sexuality lectures with 3rd year Medical students at the University of Melbourne at short notice!”
“Keith Graham the boss of 2WS in my early days on Sydney Radio was approached by TV guru Bruce Gyngell, who rang him for a testimonial about a young announcer. Keith replied, he' doing a good job but if you think TV might be his strong suit, then give him a go, but as far as I'm concerned he has a long future with us. That recommendation was enough to get me an audition, the rest is history.”
“Kerry Penton my leader/Boss for many years the way she restructured our Institute to modernise and grow to support our internal and external customers.”
“Kevin Sheedy and his irrepressible optimism and creativity in the face of failures.”
“Late Tom Fenwick former Director General Qld government’s handled the political, community and staff with authenticity in dialogue communication and excellent leadership direction.”
“Matt Canavan-The one that told me to tell the truth and not live by lies and hypocrisy.”
“I like working for someone who supports my work, is aligned with my values and doesn't micromanage me. My current CEO, Craig Niemann fits that picture.”
“Whilst I was still a graduate, my senior PM (Bart), empowered me to run with my own projects. I knew Bart was always there if I needed him, but he was reluctant to step in and provide advice unless absolutely necessary as he wanted me to learn from mistakes and make decisions under pressure. This fast tracked my development, made me feel empowered and able to conquer the world. I will be forever thankful for Bart's contribution to my career - I will use the things I learned from him for the rest of my career and hope to pass those learnings onto many others!”
“When first I came to Victoria, I was appointed to Monash HS. The Principal, Mr. Smith, was a quiet man, a veteran of WW2, whose bearing was that of an officer & gentleman. After welcoming the new teachers, he entrusted me with two senior Chemistry classes. Wow! Over the next four years he made me & others responsible for a range of projects, as the school grew from about 400 to over 1000 by the time I transferred to a rural school. I am indebted to this man's example of calm in the face of crisis & deft handling of administrative problems.
“When I started out as a young lawyer, my first supervising partner, John Tivey, sent me overseas for an offshore assignment. Before I went he asked me what I was travelling with, because he knew I backpacked through most of university and was new to the corporate world. When I told him I hadn't thought about it, he walked me down Collins Street to buy me a brand new travel case out of his own pocket. I've never forgotten about that. It might seem small, but for a junior lawyer starting off in the world, it meant a lot. That was on top of him having the faith in me, as a first year lawyer, to send me along on an overseas trip to represent the firm.”
When I took Charles Burns to the airport to go home to Wellington late one night in about 1980 after an Alcohol & Drug Conference the registration person asked him to leave his passport with her. He was desperately worried about what he could have done that attracted such treatment and even whether he would be allowed to leave. He doubted me when I laughed and told him they were probably just upgrading his seat because his ticket correctly used the name "Sir Charles Burns". I was right but he never got over the excitement of being upgraded for no reason and without having to pay extra. That's a good example of keeping your self importance in perspective.”
“My mentor and boss, Don Snadden gave me Calvin Coolidge’s perseverance homily, which he said had been used by Reg Ansett. I still have the photocopy with his handwritten comments.”
"Go and smell the roses". I has been working on an M&A scenario for a week - a day and nice and Finance Director said "Go and smell the roses". On Monday re-read it and see if you see it the same way. He could see I needed to look at it again with objectivity. Tuesday it was implemented.”
"Melis, best thing you can do is make a decision. If it's wrong, you'll find out within 48 hours, if it's right you would have saved 48 hours. If you don't make a decision, you'll waste days." Chief Engineer at Ford Australia. He instilled in me the courage to make a call knowing that I could deal with the consequences if it was not the right one.”
“1. My Marist Brother School Teacher from NZ. One statement he said to me that registered with me for ever. "Failure is not the end of success" 2. My professional mentor from Sydney. He said a word to me that made me believe I can go to Uni and get a degree.”
“A boss who called an all staff meeting to ask if there company should work with a tobacco company. The answer was no, he turned down a multi-million dollar contract.”
“At a former workplace, the owner and CEO knew everyone by name and story, and when he sold the business, everyone got a share in profits in accordance with their tenure with the company.”
“A simple recognition of effort and celebration. A rarity that was not lost.
an MD of Pacific Dunlop ( yes a long time ago but never forgotten) would walk around the site, and greet everyone, stop and ask about them personally, once a month would be in the canteen that catered for the entire workforce on-site 350 plus, cook crepes for all.”
“A boss who looked at my draft sales targets one year and said "these are too high, you'll never earn a bonus that way". I worked really hard for him that year - and got my bonus for sales some way in between my initial over-optimistic estimate and his reduced one!”
“A boss that taught me that leadership is about the people you are leading and not about you. The Mandela doctrine of leading from behind whilst taking responsibility.”
“A boss who backed me in as an new middle manager and emerging corporate leader, supported me and my leadership style, and shared their own leadership experience and lessons learnt as my coach and mentor.”
“A boss who remembered your name, was interested in you as a person, and made you feel like you and your job mattered.”
“A previous CEO from my old job who was so passionate about our business which was the provision of water and wastewater services to more than 50 regional towns. He was an auditor by trade. He was also driven and highly intelligent. After watching Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", he booked a cinema and invited the entire organisation to watch it. He empowered people and allowed them to innovate and accepted that sometimes innovation fails, but that's a learning, not a reason to stop trying. The organisation today is very close to nett zero emissions thanks to his early leadership.”
“A boss who said he worked with people he never said they worked for him.”
“A boss who saw not where I was, but the potential that I held. That was wonderful for confidence and action to do and become more.”
“A business coach I had talked about onboarding staff in an organisation. Have a frank discussion with them on day 1 about the average tenure in the organisation and work out an individual plan so that the employee achieves their goals and the organisation achieve its goals. A real win/win. I also had a manager who focused on helping me improve business communication skills - this was valuable forever.”
“A finance director/treasurer who wanted to challenge the organisation’s status quo.”
“A general manager I currently work with who is able to admit their errors, who considers the people (empathetic, fair, humane), manages as well as leads and who has a sense of humour.”
“A leader that understood the issues we were facing, understood the implications and creatively developed a strategy to overcome.”
“A leader who allowed me to excel, fail and learn.”
“A leader who I know exhibits altruism and genuine concern for the well being of those around.”
“A manager that wouldn't solve the problems for you, however empowered you to think differently and seek collaboration where possible.”
“A particular year level Dean at my son’s school who would spend many lunchtimes mentoring my son through difficult times. A true gentleman.”
“A person who had their own issues and was aware of them. A person who trusted me to deliver and removed barriers from my way. A person who knew about the value of teaming and how value added is more important than high performing.”
“A recent client had me articulate their culture. I asked for stories from the team to get a sense of the values and behaviours. One person had not gone through the right process in the inspection of their food delivery. The mistake could have lost the licence for the business. The CEO and COO took her aside and mentored her so it wouldn't happen again. It was done with care and clarity. She would never forget how respected she felt despite having made a mistake.”
“A system leader who insisted his staff to tell him about failures that they experienced when trying something new that didn't quite work. It is powerful when it happens in big scale to boost creativity and innovation.”
“A woman who had 14 children and rarely considered herself a leader, but she was a very good one. She always encouraged her kids and people around them to achieve their goals. She lived in a hard working but very happy environment and showed the qualities of never giving up, but enjoying the important things in life. She had a lovely disposition and many friends. Her leadership was quiet, empathetic and very honest. She displayed great faith in people she loved and taught others to always listen before speaking. “
“After having not seen my brother for almost 20 years, I moved overseas to spend time with him. He was a manager for a large chain of pub, clubs and restaurants. We lived in one of the pubs and I learnt he was know among his teams as 'the fixer'. No matter the issue, be it personal, technical, financial, etc. he was able to sort it out, and seemingly make everyone happy and willing to continue working without appearing to dominate, dictate or get in the way. He just fixed things & everybody that work with him were in awe as was I.”
“All of the bosses that I admired and valued had my back, trusted me, had a 'twinkle in their eyes'/ great humour, gave me a job and let me get on with it, led by example and always gave more than they expected in return. They led by example.”
“An opposition sports coach who wrote me a letter congratulating me on my leadership as a junior cricketer - that I had integrity and managed difficult players so well through my positive, quiet yet straight talking to players who needed management on the field. This letter I still have some 45 years later!”
“As a young District Commissioner of Girl Guide, the leader that I took over from said.” You are the Commissioner, so be the Commissioner “
“Amcor circa 1990s a leader who rewarded effort by insistently sending me to see the tennis finals with a work colleague , to take the day out and charge for my time too.”
“I admire David Ritter for his ability to get up each day and fight for climate and biodiversity action when, given all that he knows and has to deal with should probably be in a foetal position. His perseverance and resilience comes from the knowledge that we already have all the technology required to save life on earth and we just need the political will.”
“Story: The time when I was driving with a visionary leader /CEO I worked for (she went on to become a Dame). This person told me that the biggest mistake she had made was to hire the son of a man she knew, to do him a favour ( I knew of the man, he was very influential in the arts/academic world). Based on the son's disinterest and lacklustre approach to the job combined with a certain arrogance, she had discovered what a mistake it was to employ him, and told me that every time he tried for a job she always gave a glowing reference hoping to get rid of him. I was thrilled to hear this because I was working with that son of her friend, and he was the biggest misogynistic lazy bastard I'd ever had to endure in a workplace. Fourteen years later I was in a situation where, as CEO of an organisation, my Board Chair wanted me to hire a recent graduate she knew who was a family friend. I advertised the job and through interviews etc found the best candidate who was not the recent grad. The Board Chair was resentful towards me ever after. I guess the moral of the story is always hire people based on their qualities, not because you know the person and want to impress important people. Stick to your guns and your intuition and don't worry if it makes people dislike you!”
“I will always grateful to the Director of the Wesley Institute, Wesley College, Melbourne for his belief, support and encouragement of my self as a researcher and educator. He also challenged any limitations I placed on myself and his leadership inspired me to be the best version of myself that I could - true servant leadership followed as a consequence.”
“The President of Ireland answering her own phone with "Mary speaking"
“Bob Hawke got his driver to stop his car on a major road on the way to Parliament to speak to my wife and I as we were looking at his residence on the same day as Lionel Bowen resigned and he would have had so much on his mind, but took some time to meet ordinary Australians.”
“I worked for a CEO who treated the secretary and the cleaner with the same respect and thoughtfulness he gave his Chairman and fellow CEOs. I respected his genuine decency and role modelling. I have most enjoyed working for leaders who lived the saying that people wont always remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
“Head of NSW Treasury some years ago would have his policy staff prepare draft policy papers around issues that might become politically important in the future so that if they did he could get policy to political leaders at times when they were ready to embrace new thinking.”
“I worked with a guy who could reprimand you at work yet you still went for a beer afterwards.”
“My favourite story is bring encouraged by my fourth boss to submit a proposal to the Board of my broking firm to establish a new office in Edinburgh.”
“My favourite story is of a boss to whom I presented a piece of work of which I was very proud. He went over it very carefully, in enormous detail, and returned it to me the next morning saying "where are the perforations?". He saw that I didn't understand and laughingly said "the only thing this is good for is toilet paper!". I knew him well enough to know that was a very high compliment indeed!”
“My favourite story is the one which led to my boss opening my eyes to the fact that "all things are possible, before they are considered as impossible." This encouraged my undertaking and long and generous career in Mongolia, China, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and India, where I learnt to understand and appreciate all the people in these lands and certainly understand their cultures and how to treat them. This is currently lacking in our current Federal government politicians.”
“My history teacher from secondary school in Hong Kong who I have friended on Facebook and he continues to inspire me with his life stories, photos and commentary.”
“I worked with a woman that was horrendously bullied but she just kept going, stuck to her principles and lead her team.”
“Back in 1985 (yes I really am old enough to have been working back then), I had supplied an IT system to a major government organisation. A staff member was complaining about it not having the features he had wanted but which had not been ordered for him. It was none-the-less a major upgrade of what he had previously used. The IT director and I were getting constant calls and I was attending to fix issues that weren't real issues. The Deputy Secretary of the Division's office was on my way to the cubicle where the staff member worked. He saw me about three or four times. One day he came out of the office and asked what I was doing coming back so often. I explained trying to downplay the issue a bit. He went over to the IT director with me and got a much fuller story. He then took the IT director with him to the staff member's desk and told the employee to move away. He grabbed the newish computer and monitor and took it into his office and took his computer and monitor (which were not as good) and swapped them. He told the staff member that he had solved his problem and he didn't want to hear another word from him again. He then paid me to migrate his programs and data to his new system. I still remember walking from the IT director's office to the desk and wondering what would happen and trying not to smile as the computer was taken away.”
“Backed me when I was being targeted for a political reason.”
“Can’t remember a specific time, but people like BJH would not allow you to get down about your mistakes or things that didn’t work out, encouraged you to keep going and celebrated when things went well.”
“Certain NSA geniuses that the world has never heard of.... In Australia Justice Peter Power.”
“I have worked with and learnt a lot from a visionary empathetic highly intelligent highly educated highly cultured well-mannered, charismatic humble modest caring supportive kind (and the list of adjectives can go on and on), in one word leader-par-excellence, Professor of Medicine in Ukraine. In early 1990s, soon after the disintegration of the former USSR, I contributed to his vision of joint medical research between Ukrainian and German scientists. We have established working relationships with the University of Munster in Germany research the effects of the Chernobyl explosion on the population of Ukraine. This was Pirogov Memorial Medical University in the city of Vinnitsa located around 300 km from the centre of explosion. Happy to discuss further, as I also worked with another leader who has enlightened me about Stalin atrocities and changed the way I see the world. Both of them practiced values based leadership style.”
“He never asked something of me without being prepared to get involved and help.”
“He saw my potential and gave me opportunity to succeed.”
“I had a boss that was limited in his knowledge and not good with customers. He new his role and only spoke about what he new and allowed me to excel in what I am good at - face to face presentations and selling”
“I had a boss who I stood in for a few weeks. She knew I wanted to change the name of the Faculty. She didn't agree with me. When she went on leave she looked me in the eye and said now is the time you can make those changes you believe in.
I had one boss who managed to navigate red tape by telling stories and sharing ‘shiny things’ with his board rather than stats. Often the shiny things were people - team members who had achieved something fabulous that would normally never reach board - sometimes small. Sometimes large. But always with a story that made you feel good and appreciated.”
“I have been fortunate to work in many settings with powerful people who express kindness, wisdom and virtues that enable healing and strength in others by standing beside those who are vulnerable and calling out bad behaviour.”
“I have learnt what NOT to do from many, and now believe in a simple paradigm, give people a sense of purpose, reward their accomplishments, and give them understanding of their role and how it contributes to the greater good, and finally communicate positively and honestly.”
“I learned the need to provide some autonomy and not micro manage from a division head who would change every brief or letter going through him at least 4 times - including changing his own changes multiple times - created a massive bottleneck and increased workload for all - and ultimately lost 5 key staff with over 40 years experience working long hours within a short period of time when it became apparent he would never change.”
“I was working in the Golden Triangle on the management of coal mining trucks and had worked with the team for years. My Dad visited and had the personal stories of a number of key team members within minutes of arriving. That was a revelation to me.”
“I wasn't going to apply for a leadership position even when a male manager encouraged me to, I didn't believe him. It was when a second male manager said I should apply & gave reasons that I actually took the plunge & applied. I won the position!”
“I worked with an exceptional person who always led from the middle. Was beside everyone supporting, encouraging and challenging. Brilliant, filled me with enthusiasm and belief.”
In a deeply religious country, Rey Pineda catalysed the People's Power Revolution in the Philippines based on two notions: 1] don't hold on to God, let God hold on to you; and 2] #goturback. His anticorruption stance over decades saw his funeral parade in 2015 shut down the ETSA freeway for the first time since the Revolution of the 1980s. Fire trucks from every Manila district lined up to farewell Rey with sirens and an avenue of water cannons. Rey taught me the life of every human being is worth fighting for, and it's possible to raise communities to win against tyranny.
In disputes listening to all sides of often petty issues
Innovative, progressive and a positive professional attitude.
It's more the leaders I've known and the stories I suspect I'll never hear of. The good things they did to help others but didn't then make it all about them and have to tell everyone
“JFK and his conversation with a janitor at NASA, who when JFK asked what his job was there, the janitor said he was was helping to put a man on the moon.”
“Jim Fitterling - being confident to come out as gay.”
“John Barner finance director Coles Myer (my boss) - nothing is impossible - get it done!”
“John Dubois practised what he called "servant leadership" - believed in you and only intervened if you were obviously going off track John kindly agreed to be guest speaker at a Forum on Internationalisation, some years ago. He used a particular phrase, which I have never forgotten and have retold many times. “It is crucial to ascertain the unique mix of capability”. This can apply to individuals, entities, or the State. Far more powerful than trying to address competitive advantage, under which there will always be a “winner” and a “loser”.”
“Lockdowns could have spelled doom for Sydney-based Stagekings, a builder of stage sets for some of the country’s biggest events. But instead of folding, Stagekings mounted a creative response that turned adversity into triumph. The company pivoted to making flat-packed, assemble-yourself furniture aimed at the suddenly huge market of people who needed to work from home. The venture, branded IsoKing, grew so quickly that the firm had to hire workers rather than lay them off. With revenues of AUS$3.6 million in its first year, the new business is now larger than the old. Reference: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/insights/topics/talent/creativity-in-business-operations.html”
“My basketball coach dared me to challenge myself by challenging him, he dared me to prove him wrong and in doing so he elevated my courage to take on a world that I was not willing to enter into. However the story I will tell for the rest of my life is the story of a man I call The Marksman, he challenged me to "build the better mousetrap" better process for the Australian workers compensation system. I railed against him, I loathed him, I argued with him and he kept pushing me forward, challenging me to learn more find more understand more. All of it was exhausting defeating but not defeated, I found ways to overcome each challenge and gain international recognition without understanding that others were truly watching -then on the 5th November I was recognised by the international workers compensation system with a Summa Comp Laude the highest recognition possible. The only comment from The Marksman was "are you glad you didn't throw me out the 6th floor window?" followed closely by "what is your next project, what are you doing now?" I am the only person outside of America to be recognised with any of the Comp Laude Awards. What this has taught me is when people say "you can't do that" it actually means I don't want you to succeed because your success will show I was not brave enough to try.
“My boss and his boss used to have slanging matches and throw things at each other. Acted like kids.”
“My boss in London did everything he could to talk me out of going to live and work in Hong Kong and, when I made my final decision to go, he told me he was pleased I made the right decision but, as a Director, he was duty bound to try and talk me out of it!”
“My boss who took us all on a retreat and made us all sort out our differences and cooperate to create a better workplace.”
“My favourite story is the one about two different types of Leaders, those by name or title and those that people actually follow willingly and enthusiastically. Those that inspire us to be better people and those that attempt to micromanage and bully their staff to behave according to their dictates despite the often ludicrous assertions and ignorance of those that claim the title of Leader.”
“my husband who when something he'd worked on failed said 'well that's good .. it frees us up to do something else'”
“My manager in the insurance company who mentored me. He invited me to go walking with him along to river bank every lunch hour talking about life, work, business and whatever came up. His interest and care had a massive positive impact on me which helped my later career and life generally.”
“My managing director who, when making 25% of the workforce redundant and was questioned on how this could happen when the company was making a profit, gave a very heartfelt and firm explanation of global economics and monetary theory and the organisation's role and place within that system. It was the only time I have ever heard a leader link day-to-day jobs and roles with a global view of the economy, the availability of money and everyone's mortgages or future dreams.”
“My PhD supervisor was a renowned scientist, esteemed globally as a leader in our field. When early on in my work some my results and ideas seemed to challenge established paradigms (including some of his!) I was reluctant to bring them forth. He encouraged me to 'stick to my guns' and to present and publish my ideas. He emphasised to me (and all his students) that as long as they were backed by rigorous analysis and good evidence our ideas were as valid as anyone's, no matter how famous they might be. It's a lesson for leadership: be confident enough to be able to come up with new ideas that may be 'outside the box'; be humble enough they may be flawed and/or have a use-by date.”
“My previous manager. We had a "slow dinner" where we were able to talk about ourselves without guards, without prejudice and without judgement. He handled it so beautifully and with complete and utter faith in us and we in him. It exposed who we were and although I knew my team, I didn't know them to this level of honesty. It opened my heart and my soul to the possibility of my work colleagues and changed the way I work with people. No matter what is going on in the world, it just helps to stop and take a breath before you approach someone to see if they're OK. I no longer demand but rather ask. I no longer expect but rather enquire. It's made working so much more fun.”
“My wife - she gives me flexibility and freedom (within limits).”
“Neil Brennan, during the Millennium Drought Neil broke through political, policy, economic and technical barriers to allow the Goldfields Superpipe to be delivered in record time, under budget and built to the required quality. When turned on Ballarat had only a few months of water left, if Ballarat had run out of water the cost to the Victoria community was estimated to be in the $b. When completed the World President of McCain’s visited Ballarat to view the project and to say thanks to CHW for delivering this project to the region. Neil, broke the North South Policy divide, secured $160m in funding, employed an untried Project Director (me) to plan and deliver the project, managed the politics of a rouge Labor MP and DLP member who held the balance of power in the Bracks Government - all the while sustaining a stable and high performing culture in CHW.”
“Nelson Mandela and former president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa who eradicate terrorisms.”
“New job, new leader was positive about my need to come back to Australia from the US to see my Mother…..last time I saw her alive….I would crawl over broken glass for him!”
“Once, at the start of a particularly challenging joint venture where we were under-resourced and under the pump to meet unrealistic deadlines, I had a leader (well respected in the organisation and in the industry) who had the courage to say that he was not coping and not able to give us his best. He stepped aside to allow someone else to take the reigns and he took a different role. It was brave, honest, and inspiring.”
“One CEO I worked for spent 80% of his time thinking about the employees. He felt responsible for the livelihoods, ability to develop and progress and to feel that the business was like a home for them (safe, inviting, inclusive, supportive etc.)”
“One mentor I had for a short period of time gained the trust of his young students by walking 72hrs from his home, to the class, because one of the kid’s called him out saying he never really wanted to be there, so he decided to prove how much he wanted to be there by walking from West Sydney to the city get their on time for class. The class he was teaching was volunteering under privilege lids to teach them to think like entrepreneurs.”
“One month into an Executive role no one before me had lasted in for more than six months, I mentioned to my new boss as he was leaving the building I was a bit overwhelmed. He commented " You have to be whelmed before you can be overwhelmed - Good night!"”
“One of my early career experiences, was being recognised as a future leader and change agent by my manager. She mentored, coached and sponsored me, providing a breadth of experiences that is rare in todays world. She sparked my curiosity, and led me in a way that helped me to shape my own career path and my version of success. She was an amazing role model.”
“One of my employers (an executive of the organisation) was always encouraging me and she would have a morning meeting EVERY DAY so we knew what we each had as our goals and workload. If I had too much work to do, she would support me and take some of the load or re-prioritise. I was always supported and she always kept me informed about how my role was important to the overall success of the business. I felt like I belonged and was a contributor. This was over 10 years ago and maybe even ahead of her time.”
“One of my favourite leaders was a person who focussed on extracting the most out of his core business, but was open to considering what was next by way of opportunity.”
“One of my first bosses was exceptionally good at people management. He went onto to be CEO of a social organisation for a number of years. Although he would constitute a 'diversity' person, he was first and foremost a good leader and manager inside his corporation. His promotion came outside of that but he is still highly placed.”
“One of my leaders told me that their job was to think, plan and 'play golf'. They didn't play golf but they knew the value of being able to spend time with others in environments that were conducive to conversations, keeping a focus, building their skills and capabilities and enjoying the company of others - in order to get something done”
“One of my Mentors in the professional services firm I worked with in the 1990's sent me the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People with the simple handwritten note...Mr....., I think you might enjoy reading this. It had a huge impact on my life.”
Oops, just said that above. My first Sales Manager was the best I ever had, calm, kind, inspiring, was always himself. No politics or playing people and I always felt safe. I met my targets and his team which I was part of just loved him. He passed away in 2021 from MND which is a tragedy. :-(
“Our new hotel Manager gathered all the team together and gave us a very simple and clear instruction. "No one says no to a customer except him". This instilled a can do attitude in every team member and ensured everyone delivered exception customer service. Simple clear vision that proved to be very successful
“Patton, the American Caesar, who got out of his jeep to direct traffic.. because that is what was needed at that moment. I didn’t work with Patton, but I like that story.
“For me the best leader I have worked with was my boss at Telstra who gave me the rope I needed and ran interference to shield me from the stuff that would slow me down. I ended up winning an award and a job in California, partly because of what I did, but partly also because of the things he enabled me to do. “
“Previous CEO at company I work for. Watching how he transformed the sentiment towards him from very negative and unforgiving 3y ago (following a significant restructure which he initiated) to being well liked, trusted and respected 3y later. All because of his Leadership, clarity, responsiveness, decisiveness and care.”
“Professor Abernethy was so good at including people and believing in their ability and providing opportunities. She also provided amazing practical resource for students and led major innovation.”
“Realising after working in a situation where the CEO who reported to me was abusing their power & my self esteem was very low, to discover next CEO & myself had values that aligned. I knew then after such a long time it was OK to be me!”
“Ross Young: "stay on the steep edge of the learning curve", "follow your passion", "be a sponge [of knowledge]" Mary Crooks: realistic and sage advice Jacinda Ardern: optimism for change being possible.”
“Roy Simpson of Yuncken Freeman Architects, able to sway various interested parties with clear directions on future planning directions that involves their interests.
Sadly, I have never had a story to tell of a leader or boss that is a positive one - frankly, most have been horror stories. This has both encouraged me to leave very interesting jobs and kept me out of organisations for the majority of my career.
School principal: didn’t worry about teachers making photocopies, which are often counted. His view: people have to have the tools they need to do their job.
“Scott Morrison's outstanding positive approach to the last Federal Election when he was the underdog.”
“Seeing first hand the implementation of the philosophy of radical trust by Helen Haines MP”
“Simon McKeon - led by example and stayed true to his values.”
“Sir Leslie Froggatt could walk the length and breadth of a refinery and would talk to everyone. He shared a common and inclusive touch. He epitomised leadership as 'everyone's business'
“Sir Leslie Froggatt the CEO of Shell Australia who walked the length and breadth of a refinery and talked with everyone as thought they were friends”
“Social displays of cohesion and developing respectful relationships in a short time with 35 team members has been a very rewarding experience to observe and learn how that process is managed, delivered and actioned successfully. One of our many leaders within our organisation of which happens to be a not for profit organisation that supports cultural diversity and mission it to eradicate poverty for Australians forever and across the Globe where possible seem to be very genuine about their mission, their employees and the colleagues. They are very clear about a vision that needs to be seen by all leading staff and that the vision is executed with tangible qualitative and quantitative date as evidence based work upon completion of contract. The focus was Asset base mapping within community and using Harwood Tools with Advantage thinking framework about how we support community members through the pandemic and focus on strength base networks and connections rather than deficits and hardships during the pandemic of which was experienced by many and globally. Leadership team were brilliant in being genuine and true to the cause. So much so that those leaders easily motivated, lead by example and involved every team member as valued individuals and harnessed each person strength to achieve a common outcome during each stage of the project work until completion. I reflect on the learning and now apply strategies into my new role from what I was motivated and inspired to grow with and continue on with using the methodologies that work and put into practice now with a focus on youth and the next generation.”
“Someone who behaves according to their values, always listens; is positive, inclusive and decisive and engenders mutual respect.”
“Someone who impressed me very early as a leader was a regional bank manager who was the kindest, calmest and most empathetic man I had met to that date. One day something went wrong and things went into a bad direction. When the team discussed it with him, at the end he simply said "I don't appreciate this" in the calmest of voices, as he usually would. But everyone knew simply by his choice of words and the slight frown on his face that the shit had hit the fan and that we had to turn things around. That was when I realised how valuable consistency, reliability and empathy are for a leader. No need to raise your voice when you got those.”
“Stuart was a great leader and boss. He always gave credit to me for my ideas in Board meetings. He took credit for employing me.”
“That’s a hard question!”
“The Dalai Lama fled Tibet and daily meets new arriving refugees - yet he maintains a positive outlook, optimism and humour.”
“The late Paul Cazneaux, part owner of Boltz Cafe Adelaide reminded me that the only thing we could do wrong was lose the key to the front door. He was incredibly passionate about his business and drove us to be the 'go to' establishment on the strip. “
“The leader who says "you call me, I'll always have your back"
“The manager at Myer Indooroopilly Qld, late 1980s. He insisted that even the cleaners be taught him to properly answer the phone and showed the John Cheese retail training video.”
“The only female leader I have had in my career would invite her team to present at Executive leadership meetings instead of her to give us exposure and experience even though it wasn’t standard practice. She would be there to support us.”
“The principal took my daughter, placed her in a chair when she was little and looked after her while I was teaching. He even arranged for her to be collected by my father. I respected him greatly.”
“The tireless leadership strength, inspiring work ethic and application instilled in me when working with Princess Anne for Save the Children.”
“There is positivity and hope from any situation. It is not a story but a representation of that person's leadership ethos.”
“There was once a Board Chairman at an organisation I worked with who not only knew the names of the people in the organisation but could ask them about their family and their personal interests. Unfortunately this did not extend to his fellow directors!”
They all have said there is no impossible work alongside others and inspire them
while there is daylight there is always work nothing is to great to handle
“This boss had a drive to develop talent and leadership in the next generation of managers. He took risks to give people a go to develop skills, confidence and courage. He was available to coach and help but let you do the job. Sometimes you did not know you were being lead but you could see his pride when you delivered good results. He treated less than ideal results as a learning experience to get better. He was a long term thinker and doer knowing that rewards are bountiful if you take time to implement long term plants and develop talent on the way.”
“Tom Roper once told me if you watch the Yes Minister show regarding appointing a Transport Supremo that applied to him, in the show the PM what’s someone with an open mind and makes no decisions. They were wrong.
“Unfortunately there are not many who command respect as leaders. The best have been able to bring forward & consider the multiple elements of a problem, work though the issues & bring people with them so that their teams felt engaged & proud to be involved (even when under significant pressure). And, as is inevitable in work situations as in life, where not everyone was satisfied with the decisions made, the leader was there to create environment of respectful understanding for all.”
“Very few corporate leaders have demonstrated the courage that I would have hoped for. I can however think of people like the Head of The Salvation Army, Brendan Nottle as being close to being heroic.”
“When she first started this manager insisted on having her own clients and going out with each worker so she could understand what everyone did in their role and what the process was, what the bottleneck and time wasters within the role. this gave her a insight to the difficulties and process staff faced everyday.”
“When the student is ready the teacher will come.' A common phrase, but one that describes the absolute best leader I have met. He is ever the teacher...and I am ever the student. As I change, learn and grow...he is there, ready for my next lesson.”
“One that taught me that a challenge is an opportunity”
“One who is in contact with what is happening in the workforce.”
“One who visited my partner while I was oversees as a welfare check.”
“I started my own business very early in life and so have not had many bosses/leaders.”
“I've had mostly awful bosses (hence I now choose to work for myself) but I did have a great boss who shared opportunities, treated everyone well, had a great sense of humour and willingness to find the positives and the hope in any situation, knew that she didn't know everything and treated staff with respect for their knowledge, and was always ready to admit when she was wrong.”
“A quiet old nun called Columba- after being world leader of her order came back to Australia from Ireland, and started a spirituality centre in Dandenong. She was SO cool.”
“A top business leader spoke at a religious service and the first words he spoke have stayed with me: "You don't have to be a good person to get to Heaven, just forgiven"
“Watching Dadi Janki change people just by her presence.”
“A partner in charge of the firm's international training who once told me ignorance has no national barriers.”
“A boss returned from his lunchtime run and sent an email to all staff saying that his left sock had gone missing from the change room. Who has a left sock! Funniest story ever!”
Some Bad ones!
“You mean the one that hired me and then ignored me until he claimed I had not passed my probationary period?”
“Zali Steggall won an election against Tony Abbott.”
“A boss that has a belief then listens to all then makes a decision. That decision might not be agreed by all but that person then has all fall behind them.”
“A good leader leads by empowering those who follow such that they feel that they’re working it out themselves.”
“Against all the odds trusting yourself, the research and knowledge you’ve gained, whilst seeking and listening for input and new ideas and pivoting with ease and grace when needed.”
“Cherokee. Chiefs are last to eat, last to sleep and first on battlefield. their role is to ensure all others are covered.”
“Covey’s Seven Habits.”
Don’t really have one except Pamela Clelland Gray who worked for at the National Portrait Gallery ended up supporting my practice as an artist by buying a painting.
Gandhi was going to get married as a young man but his father died on the same day he was going to propose to his girlfriend. His father’s death forced him to reassess his life and he put service even before a wife.
“Good Samaritan Parable.”
“He always looked for what staff didn’t say as well as talking in their comments.”
“You can achieve a lot if you don't mind who takes the credit.”
“Allowed me to fail.”
“Always question but don’t always speak.”
“Just leaders who let go of control, appreciate your knowledge and creativity, let you shine in your own skills and talents and give you scope to contribute effectively for the good of the whole team”
“no one favourite story my boss at Wesley is energetic charismatic and hard working and has a great sense of humour.”
“No real stories, but I like leaders who have earned the privilege, not felt entitled to it.”
“No specific story, just a relationship built over time where we were comfortable with each other, our strengths etc and enjoyed each other’s company.”
“No story- but my best bosses have been the ones that encouraged me. Gave positive feedback when due and constructive support and encouragement when there have been issues. I try and be like this to others.
“one who takes on philanthropic works.”
“Rather than a story; a characteristic - they gave/give more than they took/take.”
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