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Help Sheet

Qualities of good leadership

Everyone has a different idea of what makes a good leader. However, most agree that merely having a particular job or position doesn't define a good leader - it is more about a person's ability to work with people and motivate them to achieve an outcome. A true leader has the ability to inspire and gain respect while setting and achieving goals.

Or as Sir Gustav Nossal, a great Australian community leader, scientist, thinker and former Australian of the Year, put it:

What are some of the top qualities of a good leader?

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader and not everyone is cut out to be the same sort of leader. An AFL footballer might be a leader among footballers but not cut out for the captain's job. The captain might be a wonderful captain but a dreadful coach. And the coach might be the best coach ever but that doesn't necessarily make him a CEO.

There are some common traits that define a 'good' leader:

Can leadership be taught?

It seems no one can agree on whether or not leaders are born or bred. Some believe that leadership skills are with us when we are born - or not - and no amount of training will make us rise to the challenge if the "leadership gene" is absent.

Others take the view that leadership skills can be at least be enhanced, if not developed from scratch, by experience, training, mentoring and circumstance. All it takes is for a person to step forward or step up.

Whatever the case, if you are already on or thinking of joining a community group Committee of Management, or have already found yourself in some other senior or influential position within your group, chances are you either have the "gene" or you're willing to give it a go - to "put your head above the parapet" as the distinguished Australian leader Justice Michael Kirby has put it.

And making that decision in itself might go a long way to defining what makes for a good community leader.

Leadership in mental health consumer discourse

Up until relatively recently it was assumed that the relationship between mental health consumers and the community was through a mechanism of representation in the bodies that were created to make decisions about the conduct of mental health service provision and the life of consumers in the Victorian community.

Over recent years this assumption about representation has been keenly challenged, starting internationally and leading into an important debate in Australia. The proponents of the argument that the consumer movement must allow its leaders to lead and the impossibility of gaining truly meaningful representation in such a diverse sector anyway has been vital to this change in direction.

Representation has been exposed as an impossibility and consumers and their groups are demanding the status of community leaders when they are playing decisive roles not only in clinical and non-government sector service provision decision making bodies but also in community understanding of mental distress, the education of the media, exposing services and clinicians who are behaving unethically and running recovery oriented services.

This change in emphasis from representative to leader has been a tricky one because there is a tendency for consumers to be wary of calling themselves 'leaders'. As a group we need to challenge this reluctance. The community sector, and specifically the mental health consumer sector, needs its leaders.

No doubt there will be many credentialed people with first hand experience of being diagnosed with a mental illness who have different skills, different passions and different priorities. This is important. What we, as a community, no longer want to do is to pretend that either as individuals or as small groups we can represent an impossibly broad range of experiences and interests - this was always an expectation that was not required of any other group that was sitting around the decision-making table.

As we start to accept that we do have leaders and that these people need support and not criticism from those who feel their own aspirations have been thwarted by the circumstances of their disability, we will all benefit. This will be particularly apparent as the leaders of today bring on, encourage and mentor the next generation of mental health consumers who aspire towards leadership positions throughout Victoria - regardless of whether they are on community Boards, Committees of Management, activist lobby groups, in the media or on mental health specific, disability of more general community government bodies.

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