Natural Born Leaders?

Read the second of our four reports from this year's Next Generation of Female Leaders Program. This week's report from the Nancy Bird Walton syndicate, examines the concept of 'Natural Born Leaders?' The findings are based on interviews with 20 influential leaders, key reports and literature.

The Nancy Bird Walton Syndicate

Picture L-R: Chantal Bou Mansour, Eima Alkeder, Astrid Hughes, Samantha Cairns & syndicate mentor, Marcella Lazarus.(not pictured) Sally Gibson

This study examined natural born leaders to understand how important an individual’s personality traits and values are to their success as a leader.


This Sydney based syndicate undertook twenty qualitative interviews with influential leaders across a range of sectors (see below for full ist of leaders interviwed).

Study objectives

The concept of ‘natural born leaders’ was examined to understand:

  • How important the personality characteristics of a leader are to their leadership style and success.  Leaders were asked to identify a childhood story or significant personal experience that impacted their leadership journey.
  • How the values of a leader are displayed when leading an organisation and its people.
  • How a leader’s learned behaviours enhance self-awareness and leadership development.

The study also sought practical ‘tips’ from the interviewees, that can be adapted and implemented by any leader or prospective leader.

Key Insights 

  1. Embrace your own personal style. There is nothing to be gained from trying to mimic a mentor’s style or approach, even if you admire it.
  2. Seek to enhance the elements of your personality that are most compatible with the leadership approach you aspire to.
  3. Always live your core values, in both your strategic decision-making and the day to day grind of working life.
  4. It’s really important to love your job.
  5. There are no short cuts –hard work is fundamental to success.
  6. The best indicator of success as a leader is a successful team.

Pearls of Wisdom

The interviewees providing many fascinating comments.  Here's just a few:

On your role towards others - Share your knowledge. Stretch your team but have their backs. Not only do they feel rewarded but so do you.
On your perspective - Spending time with family and friends gives you a reality check. Be aware of the context of what you do. At the end of the day, it’s a job and there’s so much more to each of us.
On inclusion and diversity - Diversity is not just bringing together different people and perspectives, it’s creating an environment where it is safe for everyone to share their views. A good tip to achieve this in meetings is for the senior person not to speak first. Allows for all voices to be heard. Also, important to develop relationships at all levels of the organisation and make sure even the quiet voices are heard.
On authenticity - Show some vulnerability, it makes you human and relatable. When your values and the values of your organisation align it allows for authenticity.
Be deliberate! - Leadership generally won’t just fall into your lap. You need to invest your time and soul into it.  Make sure you manage your time well and understand the economics of your time. It helps you focus.  Reflect – on the day, on the culture, on the strategy, on your colleagues. It helps you get perspective. Understand your purpose, your why

The Leaders Interviewed

  • Ilana Atlas, Chairperson, Coca Cola Amatil
  • Tanya Barden, Chief Executive Officer, Australia Food And Grocery Council:
  • James Baum, Chief Executive Officer, Aon Risk Solutions Australia
  • Her Excellency The Honourable Margaret Beazley Ao Qc
  • Debby Blakey, Chief Executive Officer, Hesta
  • Matt Brand, Chief Executive Officer, Hort Innovation
  • John Bruno, Chief Operations Officer, Aon Plc
  • Brianna Casey, Chief Executive Officer, Foodbank Australia
  • Dr Stephanie Fahey, Chief Executive Officer, Austrade
  • Steven Gaffney, Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Retirement Solutions, Aon Plc
  • Danny Gilbert Am, Managing Partner, Gilbert + Tobin
  • Cary Grace, Chief Executive Officer, Global Retirement & Investment, Aon Plc
  • Peter Harmer, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, Iag
  • Ronni Kahn, Chief Executive Officer And Founder, Ozharvest
  • Janette Kendall, Non-Executive Director, Costa
  • Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, Chief Executive Officer, Mirvac
  • Serena Sasingian, Chief Executive Officer, Digicel Png
  • Isabelle Scemama, Chief Executive Officer, Im Real Assets, Axa
  • Angela Seach, Chairperson, Volunteering Victoria
  • Selwyn Snell, Chairperson, Hort Innovation

Nancy Bird Walton Group (AO, OBE)

Nancy Bird Walton

Nancy Bird Walton was chosen as the figurehead for this group because she engendered confidence, a sense of purpose and resilience to achieve her goals.

Nancy was a pioneering Australian aviatrix, known as "The Angel of the Outback", and the  founder and patron of the Australian Women Pilots' Association. In the 1930s, she became a fully qualified pilot at the age of 19 to become the youngest Australian woman to gain a pilot's licence.

Further Reading

More on our Next Gen 2019 Graduates
Read about Next Gen's 2020 Reinvention
Read group 1's report on Leadership in the Digital Age
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