What do we look for in our leaders?

Author: Robbie Sefton

Robbie Sefton with the 2017 Australian of the Year recipients Vicki Jellie, Paul Vasileff, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and Sister Anne Gardiner.

As our elected representatives begin the parliamentary year in Canberra – amidst some fairly unpleasant controversy – I’ve been thinking a lot about what leadership means.

As deputy chair of the National Australia Day Council, I’m lucky to meet some of Australia’s most inspiring community leaders. This extraordinary group of people – 32 finalists in all, from each state and territory – have taught me a great deal about leadership.

What impresses me most about them is not so much their individual achievements – it’s their powerful ability to lead. All of them understand that leadership is firstly having a strong foundation of values, and secondly bringing people along with them on the journey.

What values do we see in this group? Each thinks well beyond their own individual achievements. Of course they value hard work, discipline, ambition and achievement. But those values are based on something more. They see themselves as contributing to a bigger picture, and it’s this higher vision that drives them.

Australian of the Year professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons actively encourages and inspires young people to make careers in science, technology and maths – to dream big and aim high.

Australia’s Local Hero, teacher Eddie Woo, has influenced thousands of students through his unique and caring approach to making maths accessible.

Senior Australian of the Year Dr Graham Farquhar AO is reshaping our understanding of photosynthesis, focusing on some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment – including how the world will feed itself in the future.

Young Australian of the Year, soccer player Samantha Kerr, is showing young women around the world that they have a place in elite sport.

What I’ve seen in all 32 finalists, and particularly in the four national winners, are the qualities of generosity, and selfless care, together with strength and determination. It’s these qualities that have earned the Australians of the Year the respect of all Australians.

I’m also incredibly proud that over the past four years, almost half the Australian of the Year finalists have come from rural and regional Australia. That’s a testament to the values of people who live outside the capital cities and our ability to see the bigger picture, and dedicate ourselves to the common good as well as to our own goals and achievements.

There’s a lesson here for all of us – and particularly for our elected leaders.

Australians want to respect our leaders – and they need to earn that respect through a strong focus on values and a clear commitment to the common good of all.

  • Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.
This story first appeared on The Land