The Change Makers by Shaun Carney


Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

The Change Makers by Shaun Carney contains words of wisdom from twenty-five of Australia’s successful leaders in their field. They are quite diverse, thirteen are women and twelve men. They are heads of various organisations ranging from sport to education and charity ventures. There is a detective Chief Inspector, Chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Foundation chair of Indigenous studies, an Australian Chief Scientist Director of the International Comedy Festival, a senior public servant and people who have created new successful businesses. Many of these successful people are recipients of Australian honour awards and their ages and their original nationalities vary.

This collection of essays, which addresses some aspect associated with leadership, was inspired by the Mc Kinnon Prize in Political Leadership. The Mc Kinnon Prize was established in 2017 by the University of Melbourne, and aims to push for a stronger and more effective system of government in Australia and to encourage those who aspire to political office to consider carefully the type of leader they wish to be.

In the Preface, Shaun Carney gives his point of view on the topic of leadership based on his forty years of political journalism. His conclusion about leadership is that there has been ‘too much faux leadership by individuals occupying leaders’ positions who did not, in effect, lead’. He acknowledges that ‘modern politicians do face unprecedented challenges’ as they ‘ply their trade in a disrupted, fragmenting environment in which fewer of us formally attach ourselves to political parties’(vii). He also reminds us that leadership is obviously not restricted to politics and this is why the following leaders were chosen to be included in this text. Therefore, the aim of The Change Makers is to reach beyond the world of formal politics to examine leadership in all its forms across the Australian community.

The essays that follow are the result of interviews Carney had with the chosen leaders in which he wished to learn how these people came to be leaders and what they had learned along the way. Several overarching themes became evident during the interviews

–   That you achieve by doing not by talking or planning or dreaming or complaining.

  • That there always needs to be an acceptance of risk as few lasting achievements come without risk.
  • That there is no single personality type that determines that someone will be a leader.
  • That purpose is essential.

Glyn Davis, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Melbourne University, provides an introduction which draws much on the great book on the topic, Machiavelli’s The Prince. The introduction is broken into several sections addressing the following aspects of leadership:

– What difference does a leader make?

– the constraints of biography

– leadership attributes

– the limits of power

– parliamentary leadership

and finishing with a conclusion: learning about leadership.

This is a general discussion about leadership aspects and is not just related to Australia but takes on a more historical approach referencing well known leaders in the past and not so past. This is an academic piece of writing as shown by the accompanying bibliography, but still easily read by lay persons.

The sections attributed to the chosen leaders are accompanied by a photo and brief description of achievements. They are approximately six pages in length and are easy to read. Their content shows how people who have a strong desire to do something can achieve success. These are not necessarily academic people but ordinary people who have a purpose. Some of these people have pushed the boundaries of traditional thinking and in the process have opened up positions to women and ethnic groups which were once denied. They are interesting reading.

After these essays there are interviews by Michael Gordon done in January 2018 with John Howard and Julia Gillard with topics such as ‘Conveying what you stand for’ and ‘Thriving in an adversarial climate’. I am sure the reader can gauge which title is attributed to which past Prime Minister. The book finishes with information on the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership and a six-page index.

It was interesting to note that on reading the essays from leaders in many different industries that the conclusions reached or lessons learned were quite similar. Duncan Lewis AO, learned through his military career and then as head of ASIO, that it is easier to lead human beings than to drive them from behind. He believes that there are three tenets of leadership that are immutable: to have the courage to lead; to have integrity in your leadership and to have humility. Eddie Woo, 2018 Australian Local Hero was also once told that you are a leader not because you have a title but because you look behind you and see people following you and that can often happen quite by accident. This he discovered to be true for himself. He believes that leadership is a function of character and personality and that leadership is about people and making time for them.

Barb de Corti, business entrepreneur, in her article, ‘Connecting with people’, also mentioned leading from the front. She believes that those who follow you want to learn from you but they also want you to learn from them. She has a strong belief that if you have never failed in anything, you haven’t tried hard enough.

In Simon Judkin’s article, ‘Setting an example by doing the right thing’, communication becomes the key, especially in his field as clinical director of the Emergency Department of Austin Health. He believes a leader needs to be flexible but willing to stick to core values and that a leader needs to evolve but do it in a way that is transparent and based on changes of evidence.

For the first female ACTU secretary, Sally Mc Manus, it is all about learning from the experiences of others. To be open to new ideas and to question the old ones. She suggests that the job of a leader is to clearly articulate a vision and a strategy and keep everyone on the same path, with the same goal. She also says that the culture of an organisation is the result of the leadership and that honesty is very important to build trust.

Simon Mc Keon, chancellor of Monash University and former Australian of the Year, reminds the reader that a leader is just a servant of the organisation and that they have to have the discipline to ask themselves, ‘What is the hard decision that needs to be made, the one for the long term? He also warns that leaders need to keep their ego in check.

Detective Chief Inspector of NSW Police, Gary Jubelin, stresses the importance of empathy, and that people who focus only on position, often fail. While for the Chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, it is the strong values of ethics, integrity, honesty, courage, compassion and commitment which are important attributes. For her a leader must own the decisions they make and be willing to stand behind them. They also need to support inclusiveness, fairness and diversity.

Ownership was also the theme in the contribution by John Crowley who became Head of St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, at the time of the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. He believes that the church and its related schools need to take ownership of what had happened and accept responsibility to ensure that this type of behaviour is never allowed to occur again.

Ronni Kahn, head of OzHarvest, never aspired to lead but her passion to live a purposeful life led her to enable behaviour and laws to be changed in relation to rescuing waste food and redirecting it to where it was needed. For her, leadership is not a role, as she says you cannot become a leader if you do not have a team. Her goal is to get all people to see that they are part of the solution. Determination and passion are what helps businesses succeed. She takes this opportunity to remind us that the word economy comes from two Greek words – oikos which means household and nomos meaning management. This is not how our politicians use the word.

The remaining contributors also highlight qualities of transparency, passion, empathy, integrity, the need for a clear strategy as well as the importance of engaging with others both clients and fellow team members. Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, sums up leadership with the following words. ‘See the people who support you, value them, bring them on a journey, be vulnerable, be transparent’ (146). He believes that there are many wonderful leaders at the grass roots level- thousands of them, but at the same time he is depressed by the state of leadership in the country, when few people with any profile and standing are willing to be fearless and to take risks. He leaves us with a sobering thought, ‘A great challenge in public leadership now is trying to inspire in an era where we’re constantly trying to tear people down, constantly trying to find that flaw, that lack of perfection. We need, instead, to build each other up, to roll up our sleeves and help one another create the society that we want’ (147).

All of the contributors to this book, have much to tell us that can not only help those who wish to be leaders but to all who work with others, whether in commerce or in the home. Martin Luther King posed one of the most important questions: ‘what are you doing for others?’ This is something for us all to ponder.

I found this an interesting and uplifting read.

The Change Makers


By Shaun Carney

Melbourne University Press

ISBN: 978-0-522-87478-5

208pp; $32.99 paperback: (out of stock)

Ebook: $14.99


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