Local Leadership, Local Choice
by John Warner


Good leadership - and leadership for the good of the people and organizations is vitally important in the world today. Change is constantly on the move and the need for our civic and community leaders to bring about change is on the increase. So is the need for effective leaders whether in local government or regional development boards.

The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999: xvii) argues that by building social and human capital of regional communities by expanding access to leadership training. The Task Force explains that leadership is the critical ingredient in successful regional development, leadership needs to be fostered and given increased support by expanding opportunities for leadership training while at the same time developing strategies to overcome current program gaps in identified priority areas.

Such leaders are not needed just in local government or regional development boards but in all sectors across our society. Nor does any society need just a small amount of leaders at the top. The requirements for effective leadership at every level is necessary as it is for team leaders as well as strategic leaders in a local community. The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999: 73) was convinced that in the future, effective leadership in regions would be even more critical, for several reasons:

  • The success of community-based approaches to regional development that depend on the drive of local communities.
  • The demand on regions in times of change, and the associated need for change management and leadership skills.
  • The premium on acquiring new leadership styles, arising from the adoption of different approaches to regional development, which are team-based, and utilize techniques such as networking and partnerships.

What is Leadership?

Warner (2001: 85) examined leadership in the context of local economic development exploring the key elements of leadership. It is necessary to define and clarify - what is leadership. In the "The Advertiser" on Thursday June 21, 2001 we saw the headline "Wake up Adelaide" by the Adelaide city Council's Chief Executive Officer, Susan Law. Is this leadership? Another headline in the "The Advertiser" July 2, 1998 - "Stop complaining, says US Expert" when Doug Henton of Collaborative Economics told South Australians they must stop blaming government and outsiders for their ills and focus themselves on reviving the state.

The question in this area is a simple and universal one: Why is it that one person rather than any other emerges or is accepted within the group as its leader? In the United Kingdom and Canada national governments have both explored what both councils and regional development boards do and how they do it. The quality of community leadership is critical to the quality of life in that particular country.

If community leadership is not seen as a new idea or concept what is all the fuss about? Why the current emphasis on this aspect of both local government and regional development boards? Is it time to explore how we develop our potential leaders? This will require three distinct pathways to be successful in climbing the mountain and it will depend upon:

  • What are leadership qualities and what you are as a person.
  • What you know, your professional and technical knowledge.
  • What you do, your skills in providing necessary leadership functions.
  • The eight characteristics for effective community leadership in local council and regional development board.

Kotter (1999), Falk and Mulford (2001) and Kouzes and Posner (1993) all argue that the answer is that today councils and regional development boards both face a new set of challenges and opportunities. The world of local governance is rapidly a changing one, for example - the South Australian Government Partnership 21 - School Governing Councils giving the responsibility to parents in a shared leadership with the principal to govern their school in the best interests of their community. In fact, the time has arrived that the need to develop all three strands in order to equip a person to be an effective leader to ensure the outcomes from the eight characteristics for effective community leadership by either a council or regional development board.

In councils and regional development boards one has to differentiate between leadership development and management development. Kotter (1996: 25) explains that leadership and management is not the same thing. The two concepts do overlap but there are some important differences between them. Kotter argues that leadership exists among free and equal people. It is about winning the followers to be willing to take a journey and what needs to be done in order to achieve a common purpose or vision. If force of any kind has to be used to get people to do the will of someone else then - Kotter argues - that ceases to be leadership.

Leadership can exist and does in a local council and/or regional development board, which include all forms of committees, target teams and working groups. Kotter (1996: 25- 158) identifies a true leader as one working collaboratively with people rather than standing over them. Kotter explains that person is like a conductor of an orchestra, the leader may have the leading role but that does not mean he or she thinks themselves superior to the other musicians.

Kotter (1996: 25-26) argues that both leadership and management are distinctive concepts, but they overlap considerably. He believes both are about getting successful outcomes through people. Leadership, explains Kotter, is giving direction in times of change, inspiring others, building teamwork and values and providing an example for others to follow. It calls for personal qualities, knowledge and skills. Management, argues Kotter, has the overtones of day-to-day running of organizations, good administration and the proper use of resources. In the sense this would apply to both local councils and regional development boards.

The South Australian State Government's Partnership 21 is turning schools into self-governing institutions, which in turn will change the environment for both local councils, and regional development boards who will need to change. It is too early to judge the impact of local learning and the State Government is exploring the area of leadership and governance to establish a new set of relationships between local regional development boards and councils. The time has come for all major political parties to call for the community and voluntary sector to be given a bigger role in meeting community needs and not restrict to business and civic entrepreneurs as was the case in South Australian State Government's Model Constitution for regional development boards.

The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999: iii) acknowledges that globalisation is one of the most significant factors influencing the world of local governance - effective leadership by local councils and regional development boards are more important now than ever before. The Task Force recognized leadership has to be in partnership and leadership and which recognizes the contribution that State and Federal Government with the local players when completing the task to provide sustainable economic development. This will lead to respect and trust of other local organizations rather than governments imposing their will through legislation.

The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999: vii) reflected the political, social and economic tensions in regions that public satisfaction to allow council and regional development boards to deliver at a local level on issues and concerns in the decision-making process and the government does not listen to regional leaders. Councils and regional development boards have to demonstrate to their community they have the ability to fulfil that leadership role and convince the residents and other community groups that there is something in it for them.

Community Leadership and Governance

Communities, in regional South Australia have invested in regional or local economic development for a long time. In the United Kingdom and Canada national governments are establishing a useful debate about how community leadership can be encouraged and supported. In a recent paper "Community Leadership: What is it?" in March 2001, it examined three perspectives that can be applied to local government and adapted by regional development boards.

Firstly, both councils and regional development boards are about more than services and functions as they deliver community leadership. The focus of leadership has to be the whole range of the services both organizations provide locally together with the contribution and impact of the business, voluntary and community sectors.

Secondly, the paper argued that community leadership is not just about the council's vision for the community. It should be framed around a shared vision and one supported by a shared commitment to delivering and supporting the implementation of the vision through the local regional development board. This is really about partnership working.

Thirdly, it argues that the task of taking the difficult decisions as highlighted in both councils and regional development board's minutes, especially on issues which consensus is not reached, is their ownership. It stresses that these decisions should not be left lie on the table but this responsibility goes to the heart of councils and regional development board's community leadership role.

In the paper "Community Leadership: What is it?" in March 2001, it argued there are eight characteristics for effective community leadership in local government in the United Kingdom, these are:

  1. Involving and learning from local communities
    Warner (2001:60) argued that it is the mayor or city manager on how they can collaborate with their community and communities of interest that displays the quality of leadership in the main.
  2. Building vision and direction
    Warner 2001: 101) explains that an integral feature of effective leadership in local economic development is strategic vision. Councils have to work with the whole range of local organizations and interests in shaping a long-term vision for the community they serve. He argues that the provision of a strategic framework, which adds value to the work of either a regional development or local chamber of commerce and industry, is at the heart of successful community leadership.
  3. Making partnerships work
    Frank and Smith (date unknown) argue that partnerships have to be about more than aspirations and good intentions. Effective community leadership involves securing the commitment of the regional development board or other organizations to delivering and help shape it and implementing the shared vision with strategies and directions for the implementation stage.
  4. Making things happen
    Warner (2001: 101-104) explains the importance of vision; direction and effective partnerships in regional South Australia are only of any use if they deliver actual change at grassroots. Councils in South Australia as the South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999) identified their importance in regional or local economic development as one of their roles in community.
  5. Standing up for communities
    Coker and Burgess (1998) argue that effective community leadership is about more than the delivery of council's services. It has to be about clear and logical voice for local people. They stress it is about transforming communities from within.
  6. Empowering local communities
    Nanus (1992: 18) contends that empowerment has become the theme for leadership and with vision as the beacon, the sense of destination shared by the people who care most in a community or organization's future. The paper explains how complex effective leadership is for councils, as councils have to both lead and stand back at the same time. Mature leadership is about fostering the development of active residents, investing in the economic growth and development of communities so that communities are able to govern themselves.
  7. Being accountable to communities
    The new South Australian Local Government Act (1999) gives the democratic accountability to local councils for their leadership role. This paper argues there are other ways of listening to and being accountable to local communities. The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999) was one example where community views were put on record on regional or local economic development. Community leadership can help provide a local view of the whole range of local services whether or not they are provided by council or regional development board.
  8. Using community resources effectively
    The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999) argues that community leadership is about both council and regional development board delivering the best outcomes for local residents and they are always seeking new ways to promote the quality of life for all residents. Council and regional development boards with their partners all have a wide range of resources they bring to the table for discussion. Community leadership is about ensuring those collective resources may be used effectively to achieve priorities identified by the whole community through the strategic planning process.


Kotter (1999) explains that leadership is the ability to set clear direction, to develop the trust of your people and to produce winning results to establish good governance in either a council or economic development board. And as for winning, it's the most overlooked element of leadership. Kotter (1996) argues that too often managers see their job as making trade-offs, as opposed to expanding the range of possibilities. That is the difference between a manager and a leader. He explains that a manager sees a set of circumstances as a trade-off; a leader sees possibilities. At any level of an organization, leadership requires three things: Setting a clear direction, developing the trust of your people, and producing winning results. Without direction, there is no leadership.

Nanus (1992: 134-141) and Kouzes and Posner (1993: 209-241) write that one of the pillars of good leadership is trust. Trust cannot be demanded. It must be earned. Kouzes and Posner argue that leaders develop the trust of their people by demonstrating that the direction of the organization makes sense and that the supporting organizational moves will help achieve that direction. And as noted earlier, one of the most important requirements for generating trust is frequent, open, and honest communication.

Nanus says that generating trust requires openness and consistent action. Leaders develop trust when they are open with their staff and senior managers with employees about the situation they are facing and when they deliver on the actions and behaviors they articulate.

Kotter (1999) describes another pillar of leadership is finding ways to help your organization win. He believes how leaders win is by setting high standards of performance and demanding actions so their people achieve that performance. Kotter argues that one of the reasons leadership has become so much more important in local councils and regional development boards is that it's harder to "win" nowadays. Without winning, no chief executive officer or city manager can claim to be a leader.


There should be a real local interest in what the leaders do in our community and how they plan for the future. There needs to be trust between those elected to local councils and regional development boards to represent and lead communities forward into the millennium. If communities are to have the leadership they need, their residents need to identify with the way they are governed.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions "Local Leadership, Local Choice" (1999: 5) argues there should be a real choice for people about how they are governed locally. The choices available to residents must be forms of local governance which are characterized by:

  • Efficiency, where decisions can be taken quickly, responsively and accurately to meet the needs and aspirations of the community;
  • Transparency, where it is clear to people responsible for decisions;
  • Accountability, where people can measure actions taken against policies and plans on which those responsible were elected to office or position on a board of management; and
  • High standards of conduct by all involved to ensure public confidence and trust.

The South Australian Regional Development Task Force (1999: 55-58) argues for an integrated regional development system, the Task Force has formulated a vision that:

  • Identifies outcomes and key result areas
  • Develops a set of values and principles to underpin the framework
  • Suggests some broad objectives to give effect to the outcomes.

The ultimate goal of all governments is to improve the quality of life for all its residents working in partnership with regional development boards to achieve business investment and employment opportunities in their community or region. To ensure this success a new model of governance needs to be chosen on the basis of what the local people want, giving:

  • Strong leadership for local communities;
  • Powerful roles for councilors and board members of regional development boards; and
  • High standards of local government in partnership with regional development boards providing sustainable outcomes in investment and employment opportunities.

This may mean a directly elected Mayor to lead their community and new ethical framework then developed by state government where councils and boards must consult their community during and after the strategic planning process is undertaken and completed.


South Australian Regional Development Task Force 1999

Partnership 21 South Australian Government 1998

"Local Leadership, Local Choice" (1999) The Department of Environment, Transport and The Regions United Kingdom.

Warner, John W (2001) "Leadership for Regional Economic Growth" Unpublished Masters Thesis University of South Australia.

Falk, Ian & Bill Mulford (2001) Enabling Leadership: A New Community Leadership Model Chapter 23 pages 221-228 in Learning to manage change: Developing Regional communities for a local-global millennium NCVER.

Kotter, J.P. (1999) What Every Leader Should Do Harvard Business Review April 1999.

Kotter, J.P. (1996) Leading Change Harvard Business School Press

Kouzes, J and Barry Posner (1993) The Leadership Challenge Joey-Bass Publishers San Francisco CA

"Community Leadership: what is it?" March 2001 Leading Communities Local Government Association United Kingdom

The Partnership Handbook written by Flo Frank and Anne Smith Human Resources Development Canada 2000

Rod Burgess and Paul Coker (1998) "Leadership in our regions a missing ingredient or an undeveloped asset?" By Australian Capital Region Development Council Paper delivered at the ANZRSAI Annual Conference, Tanunda SA, September 1998

Nanus, B. (1992). Visionary leadership: Creating a compelling sense of direction for your organization. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

John Warner is a Master of Business (Research) Candidate, University of South Australia Whyalla Campus, Nicolson Avenue, Whyalla Norrie SA 5608. John can be contacted by e-Mail: WARJW001@students.unisa.edu.au .

More on Creative Leadership, Leading Change and Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2001 by John Warner. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading