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7 Lessons from Famous Team Leaders

by Melinda Ham
Posted: September 30, 2015

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Whether it’s a sports team, a nation, a company or a global campaign, what lessons can we learn from these leaders’ inspiring characteristics and strengths?

When we must play on: Michael Clarke became Australia’s Twenty20 captain in 2009 and captain of the Australian test and ODI sides after the 2011 World Cup, and is the only cricket player ever to achieve four double centuries in a year. 

After a cricket ball killed teammate Phillip Hughes in 2014, Clarke’s funeral tribute demonstrated his tenacity and leadership to the nation: “We must listen to (Hughes’ spirit), we must cherish it, we must learn from it, we must dig in ... dig in, and get through to tea. And we must play on.”

Following Australia’s victory at the 2013-2014 Ashes and the 2015 World Cup, with the Australian team’s defeat in the 2014-15 Ashes, Clarke showed timing is everything by quitting the captaincy in August.

Giving 100 per cent

Jack Dorsey – one of the world’s most creative innovators – sits in the top job in two of the most high-profile companies in Silicon Valley. He founded social networking site Twitter in 2006 and is currently its interim CEO, as well as being the co-founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company. 

Dorsey leads by example, working eight to 10 hours a day at Twitter and then walks a few streets over to work for eight hours at Square, which leaves him about four hours to sleep. “I tend to give myself 100 per cent to things I love and believe in,” he says.

Making hard calls on the global stage

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renowned as the most powerful European leader and most popular chancellor in six decades. As a triple anomaly – the first woman (divorced, no children), a research scientist and an Ossi (born in East Germany) – she is an outsider in German politics, but this has contributed to her meteoric rise. 

Her decade-long leadership of Germany succeeds by reflecting public opinion rather than moulding it, as well as neutering opposition parties by absorbing many of their policies. During the global refugee crisis, Merkel has walked a fine line, first leading the world by opening Germany’s borders: “When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises,” she said. 

More recently refugee numbers, nearing 500,000, have forced Merkel to review this stance showing that as a leader she’s undaunted by tough decisions.

Talking about inconvenient truths

For eight years from 1993, Al Gore served as the 45th US Vice President under Bill Clinton. He also ran unsuccessfully against George Bush for the American presidency. But it was after Gore released An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, as both a documentary film and book that he pivoted into his role as an international thought leader, galvanising (and polarising) global opinion.

In his Academy Award acceptance speech, Gore said: “My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis, it's not a political issue, it's a moral issue.” He also received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly in that year

Balancing work, life and parenthood

Carolyn Creswell, the founder of Carman’s Fine Foods producer of muesli products, is Australia’s richest woman under 40 years old and also a role model for working mothers – named Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year in 2012 

“I’m proud to say that I run a company and I’m a good mother,” Creswell says, who bought Carman’s for $1000 when she was a uni student. It is now worth $83 million. 

Carman’s south Melbourne workplace has a kids’ room so parents can bring sick children to work, and Creswell – who’s busy with her four kids’ activities - also encourages employees to take time off for sports days and assemblies.

Reaching beyond your wildest dreams

Lauren Jackson, Australia’s most globally famous basketballer, helped the Opals win silver in the 2000, 2004, 2008 Olympics and bronze in the London Games when she carried the Australian flag. 

“To be named the leader of the team, and … walk in front of Australia at an Olympic Games is something that I never, in my wildest dreams, would have imagined I could achieve,” she said.

For 12 years Jackson has played in the American Women’s National Basketball Association for the Seattle Storm, crowned the most valuable player, and also played club basketball in Korea, China, Spain and Russia. 

“Leadership develops from the inside out. If you nurture leadership qualities within yourself first, you can display those qualities on the outside. Great team leaders show courage in their decisions and their actions … They go out and look for opportunities whether it is to exploit opportunities or enhance the team’s strengths.”

Don’t #@!% the customer

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, the co-founders of global software company Atlassian, are Australia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs under 40 years old. As students at the University of NSW, the pair bootstrapped their company with $10,000 - more than a decade later it’s worth an estimated $3.8 billion.

Their leadership is built on treasuring their customers - with their core value of “Don’t #@!% the customer” - and also their employees. BRW named Atlassian the Best Place to Work in 2014 and 2015

Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes invest in their more than 1100 employees as “adults”, giving them flexible hours, a paid week to volunteer for charities, holidays as rewards, and “Ship It” quarterly innovation competitions. 

Who inspires you?

Unlock your leadership potential by researching Business Careers here. 


Melinda Ham

Melinda is a Sydney-based Journalist and Editor who has written on education, travel, business, science and innovation for the last 20 years. She is an experienced researcher, interviewer, writer, editor and project manager who aims to produce engaging and compelling content.

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