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What does a leader look like?

10 April 2019 at 4:19 pm
Maggie Coggan
A re-definition of leadership is needed, according to sector experts who say the narrow definition of the term in many organisations is hampering their ability to tackle complex issues and ideas.  

Maggie Coggan | 10 April 2019 at 4:19 pm


What does a leader look like?
10 April 2019 at 4:19 pm

A re-definition of leadership is needed, according to sector experts who say the narrow definition of the term in many organisations is hampering their ability to tackle complex issues and ideas.  

Shamal Dass, JBWere head of philanthropic services, spoke to Pro Bono News following the JBWere NAB Leadership Series event exploring the topic of women in leadership roles.

Dass said it was becoming clear that a “war-general”, all-knowing version of leadership wasn’t working and that qualities such as compassion and collaboration should be encouraged in leadership to tackle complex emerging issues.  

“A hero leader from the top who is almighty and all knowing, who tells everyone what to do, and then they do it, is not what leadership looks like in the next century,” Dass said.

“It’s about people who have a level of humility and possess vulnerability, knowing that they don’t know everything.”

He said if leadership was redefined, it would open up leadership opportunities to a more diverse group of people.

“If we say, leadership looks like compassion, kindness and doesn’t mean knowing everything, and we redefine leadership, then we redefine who can be leaders,” he said.

“If we define leadership in a narrow sense, we usually we end up with men, because we go, ‘well they look like leaders’, it’s this weird circular thing we’ve created.”

The event also featured Susan Alberti AC as keynote speaker, and a panel discussion where Alberti was joined by JBWere CEO Justin Greiner, and renowned philanthropist Paul Wheelton AM KSJ.

Alberti shared her experience of leadership in the male-dominated sectors of construction and sport. She said it was important that being a woman was not what defined her, being a leader was.

“When I joined the board of the Western Bulldogs Football Club in 2004, I was the first woman to sit on that board, but I wasn’t there because I was a woman, I was there because I had a huge job to do,” Alberti said.

“Women who sit on directors of boards are not there because they are women, they are there because they bring skills to their boards, and they are the right person for the job.”  

She also said that while she had to remain tough and fight to be heard, she never had to become “one of the boys” to succeed.  

Dass said Alberti’s story of leadership was an important example of where the future of leadership could be.

“She kept her femininity and her strength lies in that, but being a woman is not what defines her, being a leader is what defines her,” he said.

“It’s up to us to say, leadership looks like compassion, leadership does look like kindness, and leadership doesn’t mean knowing everything.”

Greiner also added that having women in leadership positions was a vital part of an organisation’s success, and measures needed to be put in place to ensure balance was met within workplaces.

“It’s so obvious that a more balanced, diversified team leads to better outcomes,” Greiner said.

“The issue of a lack of women in leadership positions needs to be dealt with like any other strategic issue in a business, and these kinds of decisions start at the top.”

Dass said it was time companies took leadership on the issue to benefit not only their business but the whole of society as well.

“The fact is no one’s stopping a big bank or any big company paying people the same amount, or hiring the same amount of men and women, there’s no law against it,” he said.

“It’s up to people to say, this isn’t the norm and shouldn’t be the norm, and we want to change that.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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