So you want to be a leader –



Part 3: Commitment is directed especially to young, emerging leaders. Before arriving at the pinnacle of leadership, and even before acquiring a degree of influence, comes commitment. If you are a potential leader intent on public life then you may prefer to begin with this part. It examines the issues, choices and challenges you will face as you start out in public life, and different ways in which you might make a contribution to society. There are some threshold issues: when should you enter public life (perhaps after you have established yourself in a career), and what form of public life should you choose (conventional politics is not the only option). Most of the essays here are written by people who are themselves young role models or who, while now older, distinguished themselves at an early age.



Associate Professor Lucas Walsh is associate dean (Berwick) in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. He was previously director of research and evaluation at The Foundation for Young Australians. He has published two co-authored books: In their own hands: can young people change Australia? (2011) and Building bridges: creating a culture of diversity (2008), and his research covers a diverse range of areas related to young people.

Jan Owen AM is CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians and a pioneer of the youth sector in Australia. She is a highly regarded social entrepreneur, innovator and child and youth advocate. From 2002–10, Jan was executive director of Social Ventures Australia, which increases the impact of the Australian social sector. Prior to this Jan founded the CREATE Foundation and was its CEO for nine years. She is the only non-US citizen to receive a fellowship for leadership and innovation to the Peter Drucker Foundation (United States) and has been awarded membership of the Order of Australia for services to children and young people. In October 2012, Jan was named the Australian Financial Review and Westpac Group Woman of Influence 2012 and the social enterprise category winner. The Women of Influence awards recognise the important contribution female leaders make to Australia’s future.

Young people are often described as disengaged and immature, and as having a false sense of entitlement. Polls have suggested that many of them are questioning the value of democracy. But the reality is much more complex and hopeful. The rise of social entrepreneurs suggests a vibrant current flowing beneath much of the malaise pervading contemporary government and public life in Australia. Through innovative forms of action and technology, young people are actively seeking to address some of the key problems facing Australia and the world. We should rethink common stereotypical views of young people, and in particular their role in public life and in shaping Australia.



Ian Harper is a partner at Deloitte Access Economics and Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne. In a career spanning academe as well as the public and private sectors, he has worked closely with governments, banks, corporates and leading professional services firms. He was a member of the Wallis Inquiry into Australia’s financial system in the mid 1990s and inaugural chairman of the Australian Fair Pay Commission from 2005 to 2009. He was a member of the Independent Review of State Finances in Victoria in 2011–12. From 1992 to 2008, Ian taught economics at the Melbourne Business School. In March 2014, he was appointed to chair the Commonwealth government’s Competition Review Panel, a ‘root and branch’ review of Australia’s competition policy, laws and regulators.

Ian Harper is a member of the advisory board of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Australia, a director of the Australian College of Theology, a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

What does it mean to be in ‘public life’, and are you qualified to take this path? Ian Harper argues there should be minimal formal requirements, but you should ask yourself what motivates you to enter public life. If it is money, then public life is not for you. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with being motivated by power in itself. But remember that the state exists to serve the people, and its authority ultimately rests on their consent. Be prepared for your family’s privacy to be compromised, and to not always be thanked for your efforts. Rather, be content that public life is a high and noble calling, that you bring your best to the task, and that you seek to serve the public interest with all your heart and mind and strength.



Melanie Irons initiated and administered the Tassie Fires—We Can Help Facebook page in response to the bushfires in Tasmania in January 2013. The site quickly gained support from more than 20,000 followers—many of them willing to lend a helping hand or offer shelter to those rendered homeless by fires in Tasmania—and demonstrated how communities can mobilise and work together. She is the proprietor of Booty, an award-winning personal training business, and will complete a Psychology PhD in 2014.

Melanie Irons argues, from her own experience, that the best way to enter public life is ‘by accident’: when you are doing something you are so passionate about so well that people want to know about you.


Christopher Balmford holds a BA and an LLB (hons) from Monash University. He is an internationally recognised expert in plain language. He is the immediate-past president of Clarity, a worldwide group of lawyers and others who advocate for plain language—see

Christopher is the founder and managing director of Words and Beyond, a plain-language training, rewriting and cultural-change consultancy launched in 1999—see Clients include major law firms, public companies, government agencies, the United Nations, and the European Central Bank. He is also the founder and former managing director of online legal document provider Cleardocs, launched in 2002—see In June 2012, Thomson Reuters acquired Cleardocs.

People everywhere need to improve the clarity of their communications by taking responsibility for how their message is received—whether it’s received by a listener or a reader.

When we are reading or listening, most of us prefer communications with a logical structure that reflects our needs. When reading, we like frequent and meaningful headings, clear design and graphics. As readers or listeners, we better understand short sentences that use everyday words—with unfamiliar concepts explained, perhaps with an example.

Yet when we are at work the messages we write, or say, so often fail to meet the standards that we expect as a reader or listener. Indeed, the tone and style of many of our own messages would make us blush and cringe if we read them, or listened to them at home. At work, we need to prepare and send communications in a tone and style that we, as readers or listeners, would readily understand—even if we are uninformed about the topic. If we do, we’ll do our jobs better. Our readers and listeners—whether they are customers, clients, colleagues, investors, suppliers, regulators, or anyone—will appreciate our clarity. The style and tone of our communications help us get our message across—they might even enhance our, and our organisation’s, brand.


Richard Cogswell

His Honour Judge Richard Cogswell SC graduated in law from the University of Tasmania in 1974. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and spent the following two years at Oxford University obtaining an MA in philosophy and politics. He was admitted to the NSW bar in 1981, and spent ten years in Wentworth Chambers, practising mostly in civil work with some crime. In 1991 he took an appointment as a Crown prosecutor and practised for the next ten years from the Crown Prosecutors’ Chambers in Sydney, prosecuting jury trials in the District and Supreme Courts and appearing regularly in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal. He took silk in 1997 and was appointed Queen’s counsel in Tasmania in 1998. In 2000 he was appointed the NSW Crown Advocate, and in that role he advised and appeared for various state government agencies, including before the High Court. He was a member of the NSW Bar Council for eight years and is a member of the senior faculty of the Australian Advocacy Institute.

Richard was appointed a judge of the District Court of New South Wales on 6 February 2007. He is actively involved in St James’ Church in Sydney as well as the Christian meditation community, serving as national president for a year.


This essay is about you, your brain and the stories you know. In this essay Nadja Alexander explores the melodramatic nature of the tales we tell when we are stuck in difficult conversations and tense situations. Whether in public or private life, when we find ourselves in conflict we tend to use particular storytelling patterns called melodramatic narratives. Here we explore the potentially destructive nature of these conflict storytelling patterns and consider the extent to which they are wired into the default mechanisms of our DNA. Drawing upon ideas from the practice of storytelling, narrative structures and conflict coaching theory, Nadja shows how we can mindfully engage our emotional intelligences, to find our own inner hero—the tragic hero. In doing so, we can shift the way we think about conflict from the blame pattern of melodrama to the problem-solving yet realistic structure of tragedy. Yes, life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it doesn’t have to be a melodrama.

Nadja Alexander explains how we can use the narrative of tragedy in the conflicts of public and private life to engage even the most challenging of adversaries.


Dr Marlene Kanga AM, FIEAust, CPEng FIPENZ FAICD, was national president of Engineers Australia in 2013. She trained as a chemical engineer with a specialisation in process safety and risk engineering. She is an experienced business leader and is director of iOmniscient Pty Ltd, which has developed patented software technology for automated video analytic systems, currently used in smart-city projects around the world. She is a member of the board of Sydney Water, the largest water utility in Australia, a member of the Board of Innovation Australia and chair of the Department of Industry R&D Incentives Committee, the largest government support program for industry innovation.

Marlene is a transformational leader and has been responsible for many changes for the engineering profession, especially to make it more inclusive and less male-dominated. Many of her changes are world firsts and are being adopted across Australia and internationally. She is a board member of the International Network for Women Engineers and Scientists and the Executive Council of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. She was listed by Engineers Australia Magazine as being among the top 100 most influential engineers in Australia in 2013, and by The Australian Financial Review and Westpac as being among the top 100 Women of Influence in 2013.

Courtrooms are public places. The discourse among lawyers, judges, witnesses and juries occurs in open court, and can provoke confrontation and high emotion. The quality of discourse can easily deteriorate. This essay offers some reflections on how courtroom discourse can be managed to ensure that the adjudicative process takes place in the most effective way. There are parallels here with politics, and lessons to be learned by those who would enter other areas of public life.



Ashlee Uren spent five years volunteering and working in education and advocacy roles with various not-for-profit organisations while studying at the University of Western Australia. In 2012, Ashlee was the recipient of the Ciara Glennon Memorial Law Scholarship. In September 2013, Ashlee graduated with a combined degree in arts (French, political science and international relations) and law. Ashlee’s work with the Global Poverty Project, as a volunteer for The End of Polio concert and later as national logistics coordinator, has seen her work with a variety of individuals and inspiring leaders—from high-school students and polio survivors to musicians—to increase public engagement with global issues at the heart of extreme poverty. Ashlee volunteered with the World Health Organization in Geneva during the rollout of the Middle East outbreak response following the confirmation of a polio outbreak in Syria in October 2013.

Ashlee writes about the qualities embodied by volunteers and how these can inform better leadership. The best volunteers are generous in time and energy, self-aware, innovative and responsible. They are also courageous: the best volunteers are unafraid to be authentic, unafraid to demonstrate their passion and unafraid to reveal weaknesses or failings. They listen and learn from others and connect with colleagues and with the task at hand without self-interest or competition. Lessons in courage learned through the volunteer experience can be applied later in public life.


Fiona Jose is the chief executive officer of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, and the general manager of its parent group, Cape York Partnership, and several associated enterprises. She is also a director of Bama Services, Djarragun College and chair of Cape York’s Jawun Advisory Group, each of which play an important role in the Cape York reform agenda. In these roles she has strengthened her reputation as a strong advocate for national Indigenous affairs policy and leadership development.

Fiona is of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and her childhood was spent mainly in Queensland. After leaving school at an early age, she spent two decades managing business entities and leading development programs in industries ranging from education to aviation before she came to the institute’s Cape York Leaders Program in 2008. In 2011 she joined the institute as director of leadership. In December 2012 she was appointed as CEO.

In 2012 Fiona was named Queensland not-for-profit manager of the year by the Australian Institute of Management and was a state finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. She sits on the boards of several community organisations.

In this essay Fiona Jose describes the important work of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, established by Noel Pearson. She relates her own process of growing into the leadership role at the institute. She explains that at the heart of the Cape York Agenda is a simple assertion: maximum participation in economic life is key to overcoming disadvantage. Above all, Fiona stresses the need for prospective leaders to hold a clear sense of purpose.



Andrew Leigh is the federal Labor member for Fraser, in the ACT. Prior to being elected in 2010, he was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. Andrew holds a PhD in public policy from Harvard, and has previously served as associate to High Court justice Michael Kirby. In 2011, he received the Young Economist Award, a prize given every two years by the Economics Society of Australia to the best Australian economist under 40. His books include Disconnected (2010), Battlers and billionaires: the story of inequality in Australia (2013) and The economics of just about everything (2014). A father of three sons, Andrew lives with his wife Gweneth in Hackett. His website is

In his essay Andrew Leigh relates how he became involved in public life, and advises the young leaders of the future to do what they love, expect good and bad luck, and be a bit unreasonable.

His purpose in writing the essay, he says, is to leave the reader with a sense that a life of service to others is a life well lived. While a few people in public life are daft or mercenary, most public servants and parliamentarians are in fact well-informed people who aim to make the world a better place.