Human Resources Manager


I thought I’d share the thoughts of a number of prominent Australian leaders on how a good manager becomes a successful leader, what’s the difference and can anyone do it, with those of you hold positions of leadership, or aspire to do doing so.

In a searing video in 2013, Lt General David Morrison looked down the lens of the camera and told sexist soldiers and officers to “get out”. “I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values,” he said in the video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 1.5 million times. “I need every one of you to support me in achieving this. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

That speech was a leader telling his workforce that treating people with respect was a prerequisite of their employment. The person, who can find the language to deliver straightforward ethical messages that clearly demonstrate commitment, is quite simply, a leader.

As we all work harder and face enormous pressure to do more with less in volatile times, great leadership is at its premium.

While managing focuses on providing resources and processes for teams to get on with their work, a skilled leader inspires and motivates us, brings meaning to our jobs and can transform an organization.

“None of the world’s biggest problems – from climate change to domestic violence – will be affected by management”. David Morrison.

Leaders set a vision and decide which path an organization will travel. And when it comes down to it, most of us want to be perceived as a leader, no matter what our job title.

Diane Smith-Gardner, chair of Transfield Services and President of the Chief Executive Women network, noted that “the leader isn’t going to be the best at everything, sometimes you learn your best leadership lessons from within the team.”

Lance Hockridge, CEO of Australia’s rail-freight operator Aurizon (formerly QR National) when he moved from Human Resources to line management with BHP Transport in the 1990’s, learned to leave his ego at the door. “It was self evidently the case that all of the people who worked for me knew a hell a lot more about ports than I would ever know…you simply have to be comfortable with that and understand that that is part of being a leader.”

“No one is perfect and coping with mistakes is core to leading…and you don’t lead machines, you lead people. Unless you understand human nature, I don’t think you can lead.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of the opposite when it comes to (business) leaders. The well publicized ousting of Orica CEO Ian Smith in March followed an acknowledgment from him that his aggressive and confrontational management style was a key factor in his departure.

That episode is a reminder and an example that a job may confer authority but it doesn’t necessarily deliver a great leader. There are many sources of power or potential to influence, says Melbourne Business School Professor Robert Wood, director of the Centre for Ethical Leadership at Ormond College. “All depend on the engagement and responsiveness of employees, who either follow the direction of the leader, or not.”

“We’ve all experienced the circumstance”, says Lance Hockridge, “where someone in a leadership role is smart as all get out in terms of intelligence but they couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag – no emotional intelligence. Being authentic and able to inspire people, that’s the stuff that has to be learnt.”

A focus on leadership shouldn’t ignore the importance of first becoming a great manager.

“…good leaders grow out of having a great understanding of how you manage. But a great manager doesn’t necessarily turn into a great leader, who has a quality that’s more about inspiration and aspiration than a focus on the detail to achieve.” David Morrison

According to Robert Wood “leaders are those who engage and influence people and they do it through four mechanisms: what they do (role modeling); what they say (communication and narratives); systems and processes (compensation, employee selection and budgeting systems); and the resulting culture.”

“Most leadership focuses on the first two mechanisms, which are personal. But most stuff-ups are due to failures in the latter two, which are impersonal and only partially a result of a leader’s personal efforts.”

Rachelle Towart, the CEO of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre (AILC) is at pains to ensure her staff understands she is approachable but may not have all the answers. “Generally great leaders are reasonably personable but its not quite charisma – more about being approachable.”

“You may not be liked by all but leaders have to be peacemakers – something that not a lot of people acknowledge. Emotional intelligence is an essential ingredient for adjudicating during disagreements or discussions, along with listening skills and respect for the views of those around you.”

Having said that “popularity doesn’t equal leadership” (former Chief of Army, David Morrison) nor Rachelle Towart admits that from time to time she needs to adjust her need to have her staff like her – a trap that many leaders fall into.

I encourage members of staff in positions of leadership who require assistance or support to contact me to arrange for a confidential meeting to discuss your challenges and roadblocks.


Technical Visionary


Focuses on Systems Focuses on People
Has authority Has Influence
Asks how and when Asks why
Says "I" Says "we"
Does the right thing Does the right thing


Con Rafael

HR Manager