So you want to be a leader –


Part 2: Influence concerns the exercise of persuasion. Essays deal with topics such as the management of organisations, the language of dialogue, engagement as a lobbyist or adviser in reform processes, and speaking truth to power. Influencers are themselves leaders. Indeed, the form of leadership they practise is arguably more complex than the more visible form of leadership discussed in Part 1. Influencers lead, and at the same time serve a leader or constituency. They may operate at any level in a hierarchy, and sometimes they work in the background rather than in the public gaze. Part 2 has a more practical orientation than Part 1, focusing less on what leaders should be, and more on what they should do and say.


Professor Peter Shergold AC is the chancellor of the University of Western Sydney. He was a senior Commonwealth public servant for two decades, becoming the nation’s most senior administrator as secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet from 2003 to 2008. During that period he was responsible for the report of the Task Group on Emissions Trading (the ‘Shergold Report’). Peter was made a Member in the Order of Australia (AM) in 1996 and received the Centennial Medal in 2003. In 2007 he received Australia’s highest award, the Companion in the Order of Australia (AC), for his significant leadership of change and innovation in the public sector. He now serves on the boards of AMP Ltd, Corrs Chambers Westgarth and the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council. He is chair of the NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board and Patron of the Left Right Think-Tank.

This chapter contains reflections on a career in public service. In it Peter Shergold argues that while admitting systemic failure is relatively easy, acknowledging one’s personal contribution to it is very much harder. Yet this is vital if we are truly to learn from our mistakes—and then, undaunted, try again.


Tom Sherman AO had an extensive career in the Australian Public Service, serving as Australian Government Solicitor (1984–89), chairman of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission of Queensland (1989–92), chairman of the National Crime Authority (1992–96), president of the ACT Legal Aid Commission (1998–2004) and chairman of the board of the Credit Union Dispute Resolution Centre Pty Ltd (2003–09). In 1992 and 1993 he was also president of a Paris-based G7 task force of 27 leading countries developing and implementing measures to counteract global money laundering. He has conducted 20 inquiries and reviews in Australia and overseas, including two inquiries (1996 and 1999) into the deaths of Australian-based journalists in East Timor in 1975.

In this chapter Tom Sherman reflects on a career in public service—a career characterised by great changes in technology, patronage in the public service, and the role of women in the workplace. He reveals some important lessons—first for anyone embarking on such a career, then for those in middle-management positions, and finally for those at the top. Above all, service involves acting in the public interest, being conscious of what that entails for your organisation, and giving frank and fearless advice—even to prime ministers.


Sue Vardon AO spent 23 years as chief executive of state and Commonwealth agencies and departments and, notably, was CEO of Centrelink from its inception in 1997. Subsequently she was CEO of the South Australian Department for Families and Communities, which brings together housing, disability, domiciliary care and family services. She was the inaugural Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 1995.

Sue presently has a portfolio of interests including senior voluntary roles in the Red Cross, chairing Connecting Up and being part of a local fire protection group. She is also active in raising funds to keep children in school in Ghana. From time to time she does work for governments at all three levels.

Sue has a passion for public service being delivered to the highest standards, and for implementing the policies of the government of the day as they were intended. She understands the connection between the elected politician and the electorate, and the importance of making transactions as helpful as they can be.

Sue Vardon’s chapter discusses making the public service work environment as positive as it can be for staff, so that their creativity can be unleashed to make the public service the best it can be.

From her experiences both in leading and in supporting those who lead, Sue distils four tenets of good leadership. First, taking control of the things we can control (and learning from the things we can’t) is necessary if we want to operate optimally within an organisation. Second, to steer a business safely it’s important to maintain a broad overview of the business and its context while keeping in mind its ultimate purpose. Third, to help our colleagues reach their potential we must treat them with respect and give them opportunities to take risks and challenge themselves. Finally, self-awareness, compassion and courage are central to all aspects of good leadership, and will have a ripple effect throughout the organisation.


Professor Sourdin is the foundation chair and director, Australian Centre for Justice Innovation at Monash University where she leads a number of research teams. She is a part-time member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). She is an active mediator, conciliator and adjudicator and has also conducted research into dispute resolution and conflict perceptions in a range of courts, tribunals and schemes. She wrote the National Mediator Accreditation Standards. She is widely published in several areas of conflict resolution, artificial intelligence, technology and organisational change. She has practised and worked in many jurisdictions within Australia, in the Asia–Pacific region, North America and the Middle East.

Conflict is a feature of public, private, professional and social life. In this chapter Tania Sourdin argues that how we handle conflict and negotiate through it defines us as individuals and as a community. To negotiate well, we need to consider the strategies and processes that we use, and think and operate in counterintuitive ways. Moving from more primitive styles of negotiation to more sophisticated styles and considering the perspective of others are markers of wise leadership. How we deal with high task complexity and high behavioural complexity conflict will determine how well we succeed as leaders.


Margaret Halsmith is principal of Halsmith Dispute Resolution. She has almost 20 years’ experience mediating disputes in a range of contexts, including interpersonal and relationship, family and extended family, community and government, and business and commercial. Her areas of particular interest include the language of peacekeeping and peacemaking, standards of dispute resolution, dispute resolution for entrenched conflict, apology in dispute resolution, and participants’ overall wellbeing during and after dispute resolution. Her current roles include Australasian chair of LEADR: Association of Dispute Resolvers; member of the former National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC); vice-chair of the International Mediation Institute’s Independent Standards Commission and, as part of that role, chair of the Standards Design and Implementation Committee; and deputy convenor of the Western Australian Dispute Resolution Association (WADRA).

Revised text, March 2015 (to check)

Margaret Halsmith has 18 years’ experience mediating disputes in a range of contexts, including interpersonal and relationship, family and extended family, community and government, and business and commercial. Her current roles include Australasian chair of LEADR & IAMA: Association of Dispute Resolvers and a vice chair of the International Mediation Institute (IMI) Independent Standards Commission.

Civic dialogue is constructive conversation between leaders and stakeholders that takes place prior to leaders’ decision making. It is the kind, gentle and potentially robust exchange of ideas about public issues among people, including leaders, who attribute value to their own and to others’ perspectives. Participants in civic dialogue aim to broaden and deepen their learning, and to influence and be open to the influence of others. Their relationship dynamics generate dynamism and stasis, consonance and dissonance, and creativity and conflict, which integrate to create a realm of procedural and substantive possibilities. Civic dialogue contributes to participants’ confidence and resilience by meeting their needs for acknowledgement and connection. Leaders who participate in civic dialogue know a group well and can represent it with confidence.

In this chapter Margaret Halsmith discusses how selecting the language of civic dialogue, as one factor among many, aligns intent with integrity and leaves influence to (almost) look after itself. She shows how to choose language that speaks to each person and to people collectively.


Charmine EJ Härtel is professor of human resource management and organisational development at The University of Queensland Business School. She is a registered member of the College of Organisational Psychologists (Australia), fellow and past president of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management (ANZAM), fellow of the Australian Institute of Management (AIM), and fellow of the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI). She has substantial experience in senior management roles and almost 30 years of experience working in the public and private sectors including consultancies in Australia, Europe, Asia and the United States. Charmine is recognised internationally as a leader in developing and translating new knowledge into management practices to create and maintain jobs and workplaces that foster the opportunity for all workers to contribute to their potential. She has won numerous national and international awards for her research, including five awards for innovation in organisational practice.

Toxic behaviours do enormous damage, both public and private, within organisations. The damage is worse where the offender has charmed their way to a position of leadership. Often the most vulnerable are the ones who get hurt.

Charmine Härtel’s chapter offers important insights about psychopathic behaviours, and strategies to combat them—such as the creation of a positive work environment. These insights will help protect you in navigating your path to leadership, and enlighten you as a steward of the wellbeing of those affected by your leadership.


Tim Mendham is an experienced journalist, editor and copywriter, with more than 30 years in business-to-business publications. He has written extensively on IT, technology, research and development, business finance and marketing issues. During his career he has edited a number of publications, including Lab News, a technical journal for the research and development community; CFO, the then premier professional magazine for senior finance executives; Fast Thinking, a quarterly publication devoted to innovation issues; and most recently CIO, Australia’s leading magazine for senior IT management. In 2000, he was joint winner of the Australian Business Publishers’ Bell award for best analytical writing of the year. In 2006, Fast Thinking was named best business-to-business publication in the same awards. He is also a life member of Australian Skeptics, a body established to investigate pseudoscience and claims of the paranormal. Since 2009, he has been executive officer of the association.

For better or worse, for those wishing to put themselves into the public arena, confrontation is a fact of life. Dealing with confrontation is a skill that needs to be learned, but sometimes it’s necessary to put yourself consciously and purposely in controversial situations where there will inevitably be confrontation based on emotional responses rather than rational debate, and this is particularly fraught. This requires great sensitivity in balancing one’s personal ethics and convictions while dealing rationally with another’s strongly held beliefs, at the same time being able to influence and convince third parties. Representatives of Australian Skeptics regularly find themselves in such situations, dealing with issues of misperception of ‘truth’ and fact based on an audience’s misunderstanding of probability versus possibility, coincidence, the reliability of first-person observation and anecdotal evidence, and the need to distinguish between faith and investigation.


Peter is currently executive director, Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, and has represented the organisation since June 2010 in public forums, including in an interview with Ticky Fullerton on 19 July 2012, and in an address to the National Press Club on 8 August 2012. Previously Peter spent 30 years consulting on change management at business, community and national levels, and at an international level with the United Nations, the World Bank and NGOs. Peter was also the proprietor of Smiths Alternative Bookshop in Canberra for over seven years.

Peter Strong’s contribution is a plea for politicians and decision makers to consider the ‘small’ people in the community who are often forgotten. He argues for more understanding for the challenges faced by small business people who make up the majority of employers. He also argues that the people who actually live in a community are best placed to deal with changes to their economy, and that our political leaders should provide the tools, resources and information to empower them to develop and implement policies for managing change.[1]

[1] Parts of this chapter are adapted from Peter Strong’s address to the National Press Club on 8 August 2012,


Craig Wallace is the president of People with Disability Australia—a leading cross–disability rights organisation—as well as deputy community co-chair of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Expert Committee in the ACT and a member of the board of the ACT Business, Leaders, Thoughts, Solutions business advisory group.

For 15 years Craig worked in the Australian Public Service in a number of challenging roles including in disability policy, youth and housing. Craig is also a well-known community leader in Canberra and served two terms as chair of the ACT Government’s Disability Advisory Council as well as serving as president of the peak body People with Disabilities ACT. Craig was a member of the ABC Advisory Council for four years. He is also an occasional opinion editorial commentator who has been published in The Australian, The Australian Financial Review, the ABC’s Ramp Up and in Fairfax online, as well as blogging at

Craig was awarded a Centenary Medal in the Australian Honours List in 2003 for service to the community, especially on access issues, and was featured in the Australia Day Awards four times for work with the Australian Public Service. Craig has a disability called central core disease and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

Many commentators have observed that young people are disillusioned with traditional politics. Craig Wallace says this is not surprising in the current climate where managing opinion seems to have become a dominant project ahead of nation building and constructive change. While the media cycle is focused on colour, movement and set pieces such as question time, emerging leaders might reassess the many places where politics occur and develop an understanding of the power and influence within third sector organisations as a real engine for democracy, noting their powerful role in driving reform in areas like the National Disability Insurance Scheme. These organisations in turn need energy and a clash of ideas to drive cultural change and achieve their potential.


Bruce Chapman AM is professor of economics, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU. He holds a bachelor of economics (first class honours) from the ANU (1973), and a PhD from Yale (1982). He was president, Economics Society of Australia (2007–13) and president, Australian Society of Labour Economists (2003–06). He is a member of the executive committee of the International Economics Association (2011–present). He was an invited participant at the 2020 Summit in March 2008.

Bruce was named the ‘person with most influence in higher education in Australia’ by The Australian in February 2012. He identifies as a ‘naïve academic’. Yet he played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in 1989, and was senior full time economic advisor to prime minister Paul Keating from 1994–96.

Beneath the visible drama of politics there is invariably a series of subsidiary battles going on – sometimes personal – involving politicians, their advisers, bureaucrats and people whose interests are affected. In this chapter Bruce Chapman gives an academic’s account of lessons learned from his involvement in two major reform processes in the education sector. He concludes:

  • that the novice policy adviser can be completely unprepared for the forces that may be unleashed by a seemingly straightforward, rational proposal
  • that you need to understand the institutions and interests you are dealing with
  • that a policy adviser should expect invective but not take it personally.