By Susan Law

As local government internationally is undergoing change (from review to transformation and now reinvention), it’s a good over-a-glass-of-red discussion to speculate on the leadership that will be necessary to take local government organisations through the next 10 years.

Recently, a number of us local government tragics and leaders did just that and managed to capture our thoughts as discussion starters.

We have traditionally viewed the CEO as a decisive leader, advocating strongly for their Council’s interests, delivering services to the community, and managing the finances of the Council well. As CEOs, the borders of our Council represented our demesne and bailiwick and we were judged by how well that fared. Our behaviour was characterised by decision, communication, and yes, if we were honest, some arrogance borne of ego to be confident of the direction in which we were leading our people.

We all agree that the landscape of local government is changing: services that were designed post WWII no longer meet community expectations and disruptive technologies (think Uber!) are having an impact on peoples’ requirements of their Council. Perhaps more importantly, State and to some extent Federal and National governments are seeking to forge a different relationship with local government. This is exemplified by NSW’s Fit for the Future program, for which many have been distracted by meeting the financial sustainability criteria and have almost lost sight of the threshold issue of “scale and capacity”. This is to say nothing of shrinking resources, rising costs, increasing demands…..

In the light of that, in a rapid fire brainstorm, these were what we thought to be the attributes required of the CEOs of the next decade:

  • Entrepreneurial, a managed risk taker
  • Collaborators and negotiators
  • Not territorial or status conscious
  • Politically astute; and political nous
  • Willing to work with complex and at times overlapping governance arrangements as in combined authorities
  • Commercially alert, and a person for whom ‘thinking commercially’ is not a bad thing
  • Challenges ‘sacred cows’ and ‘we’ve always done it this way’ thinking
  • Keen on flat structures, rather than empires
  • Sensitive to politicians but willing to be objective and supportive with robust advice
  • Well networked and have sight of international developments
  • Capable of galvanising the troops, teams – building a sense of urgency, energy, hope, purpose and direction. Nota power hungry controller
  • Strong at setting a direction and enabling, up-skilling, coaching, mentoring, investing in and inspiring staff and partners to release creativity and innovation
  • Ruthlessly focused on outcomes, not accepting second best or mediocrity
  • Walks the talk on modeling required behaviours, respect for people, and the power of diverse teams (using the widest possible definition of diversity)
  • Understanding the need to embed a culture of innovation and creativity – harnessing cross-cutting teams of staff at all levels, customers/service users, partners (public, private, not for profit and social enterprise), and elected members – and drawing the best of ideas from all sectors, across Australia and overseas. It’s all about collaborative working
  • Creating a sense of place and a sense of pride; strongly committed to ‘place shaping’
  • Determined in dismantling blocks and building pathways, truly understanding the link between health of the population, regeneration, education, investment and jobs, i.e. sustainable communities
  • Tech, digital, and brand savvy
  • An ego that is under control

All in all, the new “Anti-CEO” is boundary blind (geographically and organisationally), builds coalitions from within and outside their own organisation, and is completely focused upon the outcome of developing and maintaining a sustainable community.

This presents us with several challenges. How do we attract and retain the “Anti-CEO”? Do we need to ask some tough questions about what is “teachable” and what’s more or less inherent? And finally, what does this mean for programs that develop the next generation of leaders?

At LKS Quaero, we’re developing a new generation of leaders through Connected Leadership programs. If you’d like to know more, visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.