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Dana Born: authentic leadership in the public service

13 February 2020

News and media


Dana Born on Authentic leadership

Leadership is not just a set of skills, it is something that leaders need to develop as an extension of their character and personality, says US leadership expert Dr Dana Born.

She says that successful leaders understand their own story, and use their principles, values and passion to create a personal style of leadership.

Register for Dana Born’s Courageous Conversations
Register for Dana Born’s Authentic Leadership

Dr Dana Born – a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and retired Brigadier General in the US Force – says that understanding their personal story can help public servants find their leadership purpose and become more effective leaders.

“The most important two days of your life are the day you’re born and the day when you find clarity about your ‘why’ for the rest of your life,” Dr Born said.

“Knowing your personal story and bringing it to bear on your personal and professional life is actually important for the effectiveness of your leadership, and for making a difference.

“You can’t be an effective leader by being anyone other than yourself.”

Dr Born will be in Melbourne on 4-5 May to present an ANZSOG workshop on – Authentic Leadership – which will help attendees discover their values, principles and passions and use them to strengthen their leadership.

Dana Born talks about the value of authentic leadership:

“Authentic leadership is about consistency and discovering your ‘true north’, and about integrity in the sense of bringing things together across the whole of your life,” she said.

“Authentic leaders are consistent: they are not all things to all people, they do not change from day to day. This integration takes discipline – particularly during difficult or stressful times when they can easily slip back into bad habits.”

Dr Born said that while the public service was often a collaborative environment, public servants should not be afraid to focus on themselves and their own stories, because it would make them better leaders in the long-term.

“Public servants become public servants because they are interested in serving a cause, something bigger than themselves, so getting a chance to work on their own personal leadership journey is not something they seek out, even though it could be useful,” she said.

“Public servants often focus on the ‘we’ and the work that we need to do together, but not on the ‘I’ and how we bring that to the work of leadership.”

She says the most important components of a person’s leadership are their strengths and gifts, and they are what leaders need to focus on.

“Too often we focus on our weaknesses and put so much effort into trying to remedy them, that we end up not only failing to move the needle, but taking the focus off our strengths,” she said.

She said that leadership and learning were indispensable to each other and good leaders had a mindset that was about curiosity and continual learning.

“Leadership and learning are ongoing until your heart stops ticking,” she said.

“If you believe that leadership is something you can’t learn, then that will be true for you, because that is not a growth mindset, it’s a fixed mindset. But all good leaders have a learning mindset, and are always trying to learn and improve and try new strategies.”

Register for Dana Born’s workshops
Courageous Conversations

6 May, Melbourne

This workshop will help attendees improve their leadership by transitioning from ‘argumentation’ to ‘reflective engagement’ and moving towards innovative collective problem solving.

Register for Courageous Conversations here.

Authentic Leadership

4-5 May, Melbourne

Discover who you are; your values, principles, motivations and passions. Learn how to harness these traits to strengthen the way you lead, in this inspiring and empowering workshop.

Register for Authentic Leadership here.