Characteristics of Leadership and Succession Planning


Leadership requires a leader to adopt different leadership styles depending on the situation that arises. This paper looks at four main themes and recounts my adaptation of eight leadership styles during my work on the National Executive of the Australian Democrats political party. I served as both Vice President and as Treasurer for a period of three years. The paper also looks at the succession planning strategies that the Australian Democrats uses and discusses some of their strengths and weakness.

Leadership Roles

The Feeling of Unity

The feeling of unity is best achieved by servant leadership, focused on the needs of the team members first, rather than the leader’s own needs (Lu, Zhang & Jia, 2018). Such leaders are committed to helping their team members grow and develop, and prioritizing their well-being (Eva, Robin, et al, 2019). By prioritising the needs of their team, servant leaders can build trust and a sense of psychological safety, which can lead to a greater sense of unity (Lee, Lyubovnikova, et al, 2020).

A secondary style which can be adopted as needed is a democratic leadership style. Democratic leaders involve their team members in decision-making and seek their input and feedback, especially critical feedback (Barthold, Checchi, et al, 2022). This approach can help to create a sense of ownership among team members, as they feel that their opinions are valued and that they have a say in the direction of the team (Smolović Jones, Smolović Jones, et al, 2016).

In my work with the Australian Democrats, I used both these styles when conducting work team meetings. I sought input and feedback from the team members, and implemented the ideas that were put forward, if they aligned with the party’s principles. Decisions were attributed to the team, and the authors of website articles and policies were given credit for their work.

Respected, Responsible, Inspirational Leadership

Authentic leadership is the primary style to adopt for this to be maintained. Authentic leaders are genuine and transparent (Winton, Whittington & Meskelis, 2022) and they inspire trust and respect among their team members. They prioritise ethical behaviour and encourage their team members to do the same (Gardner, Karam, et al, 2021).

A second, but equally important, leadership style is inspirational leadership. These leaders focus on inspiring and motivating team members to achieve their goals and reach their full potential (Salas-Vallina, Simone & Fernández-Guerrero, 2020). Inspirational leaders rely heavily on emotional intelligence (Chopra & Kanji, 2010). They are visionaries who have a clear sense of purpose and direction, inspire their followers to have a better sense of purpose at work (Toseef, Kiran, et al, 2022) and are able to communicate this vision to their team members in a way that inspires them to take action (Joshi, Lazarova & Liao, 2009).

I found these two leadership styles useful by modelling responsible behaviour and inspiring team members to reach their full potential, thus maintaining the party’s culture. Inspirational leaders are also generally considered to be authentic by their followers, and I believe I achieved this result. By combining these two leadership styles, respect and responsibility from the party members was generally maintained.

Justice and equality

These traits in an organisation can be achieved primarily through inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders prioritise diversity and work to create an environment where all team members feel valued and respected (Roberson & Perry, 2022). It is thought to facilitate work group performance in a way that other leadership styles have not yet addressed. Inclusive leadership also promotes a culture of open communication and actively seeks out different perspectives (Fujimoto & Uddin, 2021). By promoting diversity and inclusion, inclusive leaders can promote justice and equality.

Another style of leadership that can be used in parallel to inclusive leadership is transformational leadership. Transformational leaders inspire their team members to work towards a shared vision and purpose, which is crucial for innovation from the team members (Jiang & Chen, 2018). Such leaders promote collaboration and teamwork, which can lead to a sense of equality among team members. Additionally, transformational leaders often prioritise ethical behaviour and are committed to doing what is right, which can promote justice (Ng, 2017).

The principles of the Australian Democrats are honesty, integrity, and trust, and this was achieved by combining these two leadership styles. When people from different cultural, socio-economic, and demographic groups are all treated as equals, new ideas and innovation are more likely to emerge, and team discussions were more productive. This led to continued growth of the organisation in line with social expectations in the 21st century.

People development and professional competence

The primary leadership style to be used here is coaching leadership. Coaching leaders focus on the development of their team members and work to help them achieve their full potential. They provide constructive feedback and support and encourage their team members to take ownership of their professional development (Cui, Wang & Nanyangwe, 2022). By prioritising people development and professional competence, coaching leaders can promote a culture of continuous learning and growth (Pasarelli, Trinh, et al, 2022).

Situational leadership is also necessary here, as it is with all four of the themes raised in this paper. Situational leaders adapt their leadership style to meet the needs of their team members and the situation at hand (Crosby, 2021). They can identify the strengths and weaknesses of their team members and provide the appropriate support and guidance to help them grow and develop. By tailoring their approach to each individual team member, situational leaders can promote people development and professional competence (Xuecheng, Iqbal & Saina, 2022).

In my own experience with the Australian Democrats, coaching leadership came easily, because of 27 years’ experience as a vocational educator and workplace trainer. When faced with a task requiring new skills, I would assess the existing skills of individual team members and suggest videos or articles that the individuals or team members could review to acquire the skills necessary. Situational leadership meant that when faced with challenges, I would change my style to one of those already mentioned above, or even to a laissez-faire, instrumental, transformational or transactional leadership style, as the situation required.

Succession Planning

In my role as Treasurer of the Australian Democrats, I both succeeded the former Treasurer, and prepared for the eventual takeover of the next Treasurer. Similar steps were taken in both cases. The Treasurer is the only appointed role in the party’s National Executive, the other 10 members being elected by a vote of the general members. All elected members are limited to two terms of two years. The Treasurer is selected by the National Executive by assessing applications from the general membership, based on qualifications, experience and leadership qualities.

Ability to inspire and nurture talent and innovation

Having previously spent two years as Vice President of the party, I had proven my leadership abilities, and shown that I had the cognitive and behavioural competencies required for the position (Groves, & Feyerherm, 2022). In addition, I had completed tertiary qualification in accounting, and had 25 years’ experience managing the finances other organisations. I had also worked as an electorate officer for the former parliamentary leader of the party.

In a somewhat different vein, the President of the organisation was elected by a vote of the general members based on her previous experience of 11 years in the federal senate, including 3 years as parliamentary leader of the party. In general, members of the National Executive were selected in a similar way, by a vote of the general members.

In effect, the general members were the hiring managers, and experience showed they looked for skills, strengths, and talents as well as warmth, empathy and compassion (Floyd, 2023). As example, the President had shown that she could negotiate with both Labor and LNP governments when the party had balance of power in the Senate.

In the past, when the party membership was around 15,000, the National Executive of the day would nurture future leaders and promote them to the general members as possible successors, and this usually resulted in the “right people” being elected. However, in recent years, with membership declining to below 500 at one point, there was less of a talent pool, and National Executive members have often been elected unopposed.

Now that membership is back up to 2,000, there is a greater talent pool, and the National Executive has been able to identify stronger candidates who they encourage and promote for election. The principles of the party leadership seem to align with proven succession planning techniques for non-profit organisations, including selecting those that show skills in transformational leadership and shared leadership (Johnson, 2022), which will be necessary for the party to continue to grow.

Developing people as professionals

The Australian Democrats adopted a strategy of identifying professionals with qualifications and experience in multiple areas to be members of the various policy development and support teams. This was usually a first step towards being elected to the State Executive team, which in turn would lead to being considered for the National Executive team. The party believe that for the effective implementation of talent management, early identification of important role players and the articulation of responsibilities will result in ownership and transparent accountabilities (Ras, Mathafena & van Zyl, 2017).

This could be either in the support teams such as IT, communications, social media, and fundraising, or on the policy development teams such as defence, foreign affairs, climate change and economy. A National Executive member was appointed to each team but didn’t necessarily take leadership of the team. The team leaders were normally selected by the teams, but the roles of each member of the team were indirectly influenced by the National Executive. We used a layered, differentiated strategy that handles perceptions of inclusivity while defending organisational goals (Glaister, Al Amri & Spicer, 2021).

Those that showed talent on the various teams would be guided towards the leadership of those teams. We believed that the organisation must give team leaders the opportunity to learn political skills or alter recruiting procedures to find persons with these skills for future management roles when they moved on. Using strategies to involve team leaders in their work helped the party foster transformational leadership behaviours and advance the party wellbeing. We also tried to discover and enhance the team leaders’ sensitivity to individual needs and emotional regulation (Mencl, Wefald & van Ittersum, 2016).

People who can change barriers into opportunities

When looking for potential successors to the National or State Executive Teams, we looked for people who performed well in the work teams, especially people who knocked down barriers and changed them into opportunities. These were generally people who could generate ideas that would include positive social change both within and external to the party (Chinoperekweyi, Ojung’a & Tonodzai, 2022). As a political party, we recognised that social change in recent years has not always been positive, and we sought people who could change this.

One of the main barriers we identified within the party was the position of many of the former senators and members of parliament that we should return to our glory days when we held balance of power in the federal senate. While this is the objective of every political party, there was no strategy put forward as to how this could be done. The main objective was the continuity of the party, without any clear plan about where the party was going (McKee & Groelich, 2016). Additionally, anybody who put forward a new strategy for return to parliament would find barriers from the majority of the National Executive, who did not want to alienate the formers senators.

While individuals were identified who had workable strategies, such as fielding candidates in every electorate to push votes to the senate candidates, the National Executive resisted this as the majority believed we should only concentrate on getting back into the senate. This is a major downfall of the party’s succession planning, as they do not allow potential candidates to pursue career progression into the parliament (Jindal & Shaikh, 2021). The party needs to look at new strategies rather than looking to the past.

Pursuing mergers to increase talent pool

Another barrier we ran into was decreasing membership numbers. First, it meant we had a smaller talent pool to draw on for potential successors to the National Executive, and second, it meant we were struggling to retain registration as a political party. In the past, the minimum number of members to retain registration federally was 500, but in 2021 the LNP and Labor combined to increase the minimum membership to 1500. At that time, we had about 600 members, so obviously something needed to be done.

We decided that both problems could be addressed by merging with other minor political parties. As an extension of this, we also decided to invite independent members of parliament and senators to join the party, with a view to increasing membership and the talent pool from their supporters. While we had several serious prospects, the problem that arose was the restructuring of the organisation and the operational and financial reporting methods of the merged organisations (Bills, Lisic & Seidel, 2017). No consensus could be reached on this, as the Australian Democrats president insisted that the other minor parties would simply be absorbed by the Australian Democrats.

In this respect, the executive teams of the other parties and the independents were expected to accept leadership from the Australian Democrats leadership team, without any regard to the way the membership of the other parties would react to new management. Human nature dictates that there would be a high level of distrust in such a situation (Lipponen, Kaltiainen, et al, 2020). An orderly transition to a new management team should have been negotiated, with members of all parties being represented on the new team. Forced resignations of existing executives from the other parties would not have worked out well (Greene & Smith, 2021).

Leaving a legacy

The Australian Democrats have a long history of legacy, with every former senator and member of parliament having an important piece of legislation attributed to them. Further than that, the Australian Democrats were in fact the legacy of their founder, Don Chipp. When Chipp left the Liberal Party to form a new party, he created an enduring legacy that excited aspiration and hope, which is the hallmark of a great legacy (Binns, Tushman & O’Reilly, 2022). Today, the Australian Democrats are seen as the oldest and most successful of the minority parties in Australia, and Don Chipp has almost legend status.

Chipp has been an inspiration to all the leaders of the party since, with each encouraged to leave their own legacy. Some legacies have been notable, while others may be best forgotten, but each leader has contributed to the party. However, outside the party, many of these legacies have been forgotten. The same cannot be said for all the National Executive members, past and present. While all set out with an ambition to create a legacy, that ambition soon faded with what is known as legitimacy drift (Merendino, Bek & Timms, 2021). This seems to be common in most organisations.

For my own part, my legacy is that I brought the party back from the brink of deregistration in 2021, when we only had 600 members, to recruiting 1300 new members in 3 weeks. This took the party past the new minimum membership requirement of 1500 that the previous government introduced, so that we passed a registration audit by the Australian Electoral Commission. It also introduced the party to a new concept of using the AI aspects of social media advertising for future recruitment and election campaigns.


The Australian Democrats have no doubt been a force to be reckoned with in the past and remain prominent in political circles. However, they need to formulate strategies to maintain that prominence and divest themselves of some of the strategies they currently employ. The longer they keep using some of their current strategies, the harder it will be to divest themselves of a few bad habits.


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