So you want to be a leader

So you want to be a leader was launched at: Deloitte Access Economics, Level 10, 550 Bourke Street Melbourne Tuesday 1 September at 6.00 – 7.30pm. Speakers:

  • Dr Jan Owen AM – chair
  • Emeritus Professor Ian Harper – keynote address
  • Philip Crisp
  • Elise Harper


Philip Crisp


Youth research

  • Leading up to tonight, I did what any self-respecting Digital Native would do – I turned to social media.
  • I asked my peers to tell me who they admired as leaders, and why
  • The responses were incredibly varied and insightful to say the least. I’d like to share a few of them.
  • Barack Obama, because he is compassionate and makes decisions according to his values rather than popular demand
  • Clementine Ford, who is an Australian feminist writer and commentator, because she is authentic, and when she has found herself to be incorrect she acknowledges her mistake, and apologizes
  • The US Senator Elizabeth Warren, because she is fighting for a greater purpose and has integrity and conviction about the topics that matter to her
  • Amy Schumer, who is a particularly zeitgeist American actor and comedian, because she shows respect towards people whose opinions are different to hers
  • And my personal favourite, Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor who famously brought peace and stability to Rome, because he took advice from people who knew better, learnt from the mistakes of others, and adapted his leadership style accordingly.
  • The general themes across my peers’ responses were that they admired leaders with integrity, authenticity, and commitment to a greater purpose.


  • Phillip lays the ground for this book with the statement “there is a hunger for more inspirational leadership in our society, especially among young people.”
  • My name is Elise Harper, and I am honored to be speaking tonight on behalf of those young people. 


  • From my perspective, this book has triumphed in many ways.
  • The access that it provides to the hearts and minds of Australian leaders, who have lived such diverse and accomplished lives, is truly remarkable.
  • It would take me years of intense LinkedIn stalking and ‘punchy’ email introductions to try and sit down for coffee with each of these leaders.

A modern approach to ‘Public life’

  • For me the most relevant triumph of this book, is it’s progressive approach to the terms ‘public life’ and ‘civic dialogue’
  • In the book’s foreword Dr John Hewson says “Politics today is very short-term, opportunistic, populist, sometimes alarmingly personal and mostly negative; the focus is to do whatever it takes to win the daily media cycle.”
  • For many of my peers, this “game” of politics is unappealing, especially as a young person looking to build a career around trying to improve society.
  • But this lack of interest in “the game” isn’t to say we don’t want a say in how our country is run. The opposite in fact.
  • As Peter Ellyard – who is here tonight – notes in his essay, my generation is much less involved in party politics than our parents’ generation.
  • Instead, we rally around issues and support causes that express our ethics and values.
  • Lucas Walsh and Jan Owen – also here tonight – pick up on this too. They point out that when we rally around issues, my generation don’t view ourselves as being political; we view ourselves as making a difference.
  • This difference in outlook means that when aspiring to be a leader in public life, increasing numbers of my peers see the appeal of engaging with non-political
  • We might aim to be advocates for a cause or interest group, or lead an NGO, or lead the development of corporate social responsibility as a practice, or start new types of organizations that straddle business and philanthropy.
  • As Craig Wallace reminds us in his essay, for my generation in particular “there are many many choices between standing for parliament and being a clicktivist”. I wonder where dumping a bucket of ice on your head to raise money for ALS counts on that spectrum…
  • Personally, I have friends who certainly wouldn’t categorize themselves as “political”, but they own social enterprises, they work in health promotion, they’re doing a PHD in the psychology of racism, they’re teaching refugee teenagers how to fix and ride unclaimed stolen bikes, or they’re organizing teams to bake animal-shaped cupcakes for environmental causes.
  • The point is; they are building their lives around making a difference.

A modern approach to ‘civic dialogue’

  • The way that we engage in civic dialogue is also different.
  • My generation has grown up in a time where corporations have immense power, money, and influence.
  • These corporations also exist in an environment where they increasingly have to justify their worth to society in terms of environmental and social impact over straight economics.
  • We are inherently aware that we can shape global futures if we change what is traded in global markets and how. So, on a grass-roots level, we feel we are contributing to civic dialogue through making informed product choices.
  • In other words, we are aware that we can influence the world through our wallets.
  • The authors in this book understand these shifts in dynamic and outlook, and have written essays that are insightful and relevant not only to aspiring politicians, but aspiring leaders in the many other sectors and organizations that are increasingly effective tools for democracy in Australia, and the world.

Lessons for leadership

  • So I filled pages and pages of my trusty notebook with what I learnt reading this book.
  • It was incredibly hard to choose from such an amazing range of essays, but I thought I’d share a couple of these lessons, just to give you a taste.
  • Peter Acton implored me to lead by offering special insight into the human condition and try to rise above petty arguments. He said to do this by embracing the teachings and insights from history, literature and philosophy.
  • Andrew Leigh taught me to be unreasonable, weather that is standing up for a person who is being mistreated, or re-thinking an ingrained practice at work. Andrew quotes George Bernard Shaw, saying that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.. or woman.
  • Anya Poukchanski reminded me to define myself as a leader, not a female leader, and, if in a position of public leadership, to actively fight against the idea that I my values and attributes are defined by my sex, and that the views of all women are similar to mine.


  • Overall, this book is an incredible resource for up and coming leaders, filled with inspiration and practical tools to strive for better leadership and better civic dialogue.
  • It is also refreshingly honest, with writers really working to steer away from the jargon and platitudes that usually surround leadership advice. The writers are frank, and sometimes confronting, as is needed.
  • For those of us with relatively short attention spans, this book is perfect. Each essay is short enough to pick up and read in-between the rest of your busy life, but long enough to impart some genuine wisdom and spark your mind.
  • If all aspiring leaders read this book, I would be even more hopeful and excited about the future of our country than I already am by just watching my peers find new ways to solve problems and shape a more equal and prosperous future for Australia.