4.2 The challenges of leadership
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership is perhaps even more demanding than it used to be. Not only is it based on traditional values, knowledge, laws, and extended family relations, but leaders also have to operate within the contemporary environment of Western-style governance, its different standards and financial requirements.
“True leaders in the Aboriginal community are often burnt out through the pressures of doing all with nothing … Leaders in the Aboriginal community have to be strong, resilient, moral and highly skilled in both Aboriginal and mainstream politics. It also doesn’t hurt to have the ability to sell ice to Eskimos, as you have to get support from both the community and government to get things done.”
(Marjorie Anderson, ‘Leadership: An Aboriginal perspective’, 7 April 2006, Sydney)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural values and principles of leadership are often at odds with those of western liberal democracies, which expect leaders to be independent from the demands of family and kin.
One of the biggest challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders is finding the difficult balance between ‘looking after’ and being directly accountable to their own families and ‘own mob’, at the same time as fulfilling their wider responsibilities of working for their nations, communities and organisations, and with governments and other stakeholders.
Sometimes leaders say that they have two-way accountability. In fact, today they are required to be accountable in several different directions.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders may not always be able to make decisions on the spot. The timeframes for important consensus decision making and communication processes may seem slow to government officials or resource companies, but rushed processes can undermine the legitimacy of leadership and governance.
Generally there is also a small pool of leaders in communities and organisations. That means individual leaders have huge workloads and have to wear many different hats, with multiple responsibilities and obligations.
Sometimes leaders suffer from the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ and often seem to have to work twice as hard to gain legitimacy and keep faith with their own mob.
On the one hand, they can be harshly criticised for speaking out about matters if they are not seen to have the cultural right to do so. On the other, they can sometimes be held accountable for issues out of their control.
Effective governance requires a delicate balance between a continuous, stable leadership, and the need for renewal.
Perhaps the biggest pressure for leaders is the ability to adapt and respond daily to the ‘three Cs’—change, crises and conflict — at the same time as ensuring the ongoing resilience and self-determination of their group’s governance arrangements.
IUIH on the challenges of shared governance
The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Adrian Carson and Jody Currie, Director of Operations and Communications discuss some of the complications of shared governance and how they tackled challenges that arose in bringing together four health services.
Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly’s Charter of Governance
In this clip Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) Chair Sam Jeffries talks about how MPRA chose not to become an incorporated model and how their Charter of Governance serves as their guiding document.