4.0 Leadership for governance
Effective leadership is important for achieving better social, economic and cultural outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Governance is about more than just leadership—but without visionary and accountable leaders your governance can quickly become ineffective and can lack credibility.
Today, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are working to rebuild their leadership and decision-making authority; develop better ways of selecting, supporting and mentoring their young leaders; and establishing more effective governing bodies.
To revitalise their leadership, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are tackling fundamental questions such as:
- What is leadership and why is it important?
- What kind of leadership contributes to effective, legitimate governance in nations and communities?
- How can you evaluate your leadership for governance?
- How can you develop the next generation of strong leaders?
This topic gives you information and ideas about developing and strengthening your leadership. You will also find several tools to help you support, sustain and evaluate them.
Topic 5 includes more detailed information about the work of leaders in the governing bodies of incorporated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
4.0.1 What is leadership and why is it important?
There are many definitions of leadership, and many different kinds of leaders.
“Leaders are essentially creatures of habit. They don’t really do extraordinary things that often.
They do ordinary things often and consistently and persistently …
Good leaders keep turning up, they’re there, … at the coalface, they want to take on the challenges,
they want to fight the fight, regardless of how overwhelming the opposition seems, from both in and outside.”
(Mick Dodson, Chair, Indigenous Governance Awards, presentation to Mt Isa Sharing Success Workshop, September 2007)
“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus …”
(Martin Luther King Jr, Speech, ‘Remaining awake through a great revolution’, 31 March 1968)
Definition: Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. Leadership is about providing guidance and direction. It doesn’t always have to be done from the front; and it’s not an easy thing to achieve. A leader is someone who has the style, personal qualities, values, skills, experience and knowledge to ‘mould consensus’ and mobilise other people to get things done together.
Leadership and management are not the same thing. These days, nations, communities and organisations need to have both—but not all good leaders are good managers and equally, not all managers are good leaders.
Depending on how they exercise power and use their authority, leaders can either undermine their nation or organisation, or they can inspire people and foster commitment and cooperation. So the qualities and skills of your leaders are critical to the effectiveness of your governance.
But remember, leadership is not just for people at the top. Everyone can be a leader by using his or her talents to make a difference each day. Building collective leadership is an important part of nation building and community development.
4.0.2 Effective, legitimate leadership
Every society has its strong, visionary leaders, and its weak leaders.
Effective leadership is about the wise use of power. The legitimacy of leaders is stronger and more sustained when they gain the respect and trust of their members, and when there is open communication with these members.
To do that, leaders need to:
- act with a set of shared values and standards of behaviour in mind
- be accountable, and commit to being fair and inclusive in representing their members and followers
- understand and carry out the responsibilities given to them
- inspire people to work together
- recognise their weaknesses and strengths
- understand the limitations to their role
- know when to seek further knowledge or expertise
- help their nation, communities and organisations achieve their goals.
This kind of leadership better enables a group of people to achieve the things that matter to them.
Gary Banks, Chairman of the Australian Productivity Commission reports on ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage’ for Australian governments. He suggests that solving the issues confronting communities and nations is not just a matter of money—legitimate and effective leadership plays a vital role:
“Community leadership and the legitimacy of this are absolutely essential.
How leaders marshal resources, engage partners, mobilise assets and generate support to
enact their visions is at the heart of effective governance.”
(Gary Banks, ‘Elders bring new hope to the Kimberley’,Reconciliation Newsletter, No 25, page 9, December 2012)