Leadership | Diversity | Inclusion

Leaders must continue learning and take risks: Ita Buttrose

Today's leaders cannot exclude themselves from the learning process and must take risks, 2013 Australian of the Year, Ita Buttrose AO OBE has told a CEDA audience in Perth.

"It's one thing to encourage the people who work for us to keep learning but today's leaders cannot exclude themselves from the learning process," she said.

"I've made it my business to never stop learning, to continuously challenge my brain because I passionately believe the moment you stop learning, the moment you think you know it all, is the moment you stop going forward."

Ms Buttrose said true leaders are smart enough to have people around them with diverse skills and knowledge, who are encouraged to come up with creative ideas.

"Today's leader and the leaders of tomorrow will have to be able to ask," she said.

While we all spend a lot of time discussing leadership in Australia, we all know a leader when we see one in action, she said.

"True leaders dare to rock the boat," she said.

"Leaders have to be people who are prepared to put their reputation on the line.

"A leader must be a revolutionary who is more concerned with being effective than being constrained by procedures."

Ms Buttrose said many companies don't appreciate the human capital of their business but it should be seen as a priority.

"So anyone who is in a leadership role needs to be aware of the human capital of his or her team and value their contribution and that includes saying thank you for a job well done," she said.

"(Employees) are not a liability but rather a valuable asset.

"I think all employees are investments, after all, these days many organisations pride themselves on delivering services - services delivered by their employees through their knowledge and skills and their labour."

Ms Buttrose also said that gender diversity in the workplace and in the boardroom is a leadership issue.

"If a boss of a company says 'hey, we don't have the right gender diversity on our board, I'm going to change it,' change happens."

As for age diversity in the workplace, Ms Buttrose said Australia needs to change its negative perception of older Australians in the workplace.

"Australia can't afford to lose the wisdom, knowledge and experience that older persons have," she said.

"We need to keep older people employed, we need their tax payments."