Shelley Flett on Australian Leadership and her Optimism

by Victor Perton

I was delighted to catch up with Shelley Flett to talk about Australian leadership and optimism.  Shelley is a business and leadership trainer & coach.

VP: Shelley, thinking about your life’s journey, who are the people who have inspired you? 

Shelley Flett: I have been inspired by so many different people throughout my life, from my parents who have always worked hard and always succeeded (including during the 90’s recession when they nearly lost their farm). To the leader who taught me it was possible to have fun at work, along with the leader who encouraged me to dream big and believe in myself. Then, there was the leader who listened better than anyone I know and another who helped me to see different perspectives and learn to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. 

Today, I’m inspired through curiosity and speak to as many people as I can in order to gain new and different perspectives – the learning journey is endless and that’s really exciting. 

VP: Shelley, what’s your favourite story of a leader or boss you have worked with? 

Shelley Flett: I remember, as a new leader, reporting to a manager, Islam, who had complete faith in my ability – in fact, he believed in me before I believed in myself. He would challenge my thinking and support the decisions I made (even if he didn’t agree). When I failed he would help me to learn from my mistakes and encouraged me to keep going. He was, and I’m sure still is, the leader who cares as much about his people as he cares about the success of the business. He is absolutely the one leader I was always inspired to follow! 

 VP: Shelley, what are the unique qualities of Australian leadership? 

Shelley FlettOf what I’ve observed and experienced of Australian leaders the thing that makes them unique is their ability to work hard and have fun! You see them embracing a culture of “let’s get in and get the work done, then we can celebrate”, for example with end of project celebrations, adhoc dinners and of course Friday night drinks. Along with this, Australian leaders are all about finding the easiest way of doing things, – along with working hard they’re always looking for opportunities to work smart. And finally, Australian leaders have a strong focus on relationships and value someone they know and trust over someone they don’t know that looks good on paper (i.e. education & qualifications). 

VP: Shelley, what do Australians want of their leaders today? 

Shelley FlettAustralians today want their leaders to act with integrity, to do what they say they’re going to do and do what is right. Too often leaders will do what is ‘easy’, they will tell people what they think they want to hear and make promises they can’t keep. The consequence of this is an erosion of trust and a disengaged team. Australians want the truth, whether it’s good, bad or ugly, a leader who can be honest and upfront, while remaining objective, will gain a whole lot more respect and trust that those who don’t. 

VP: Shelley, what makes you optimistic? What’s the case for optimism? 

Shelley Flett: The focus on developing and improving ‘soft skills’ in the workplace makes me optimistic. There is a whole lot of attention being placed on improving customer and employee experience – which is a refreshing change from the primary focus on profitability and shareholder value – it seems to be balancing out. 

What’s also great to hear is the term ‘psychological safety’ being used in leadership discussions. Leaders are seeing the benefit of embracing a growth mindset and to do so they must ensure they create a safe place for their people to fail, learn, adapt and evolve.

VP: Shelley, the evidence shows that optimism is the underpinning of good strategy. Would you tell us about the relationship between optimism and good strategy?

Shelley Flett:  “What we focus on amplifies. If you focus on all the things that are going wrong then it can seem like nothing’s right. On the flip side, if you focus on all the things that are going right it is easier to be optimistic about the future and look for what’s possible. A good strategy is built around possibility and a focus on doing things differently along with the reality of what can be achieved within the existing environment and lessons learnt from past failures.”

“The relationship between optimism and good strategy comes down to a leader’s focus and what’s possible.”

VP: Shelleythe evidence shows that optimism is the underpinning of innovation. Would you talk us about your insights into the relationship between optimism and innovation?

Shelley Flett:  “By definition, to innovate is to “make changes in something already established” – through new processes, ideas, or products. It is optimism and a positive mindset that allows us to step into our creative space – where different perspectives are considered and judgements are reserved. It is optimism that encourages us to take a leap of faith, embrace risks and trust that positive change and innovation will create success into the future.”

VP: Shelley, the research shows optimism is the underpinning of entrepreneurship. Would you talk to us about the relationship between optimism and entrepreneurship?

Shelley Flett:  “Being an entrepreneur is a tough gig. You work long hours, with little clarity on whether your business is going to succeed or fail and often you’re doing it on your own – at times it can feel very isolating and lonely. Without optimism the temptation to give up can be so great and I’ve seen many entrepreneurs simply walk away. Those who hold onto optimism can withstand adversity and persist with conviction – these are the ones who will succeed!”


  • Victor Perton

    Chief Optimism Officer

    The Centre for Optimism

    I ask people what makes them optimistic.

    The purpose? To help everyone and anyone become more optimistic and to add to their CV “I am a realistic and infectiously optimistic leader.” My underpinning beliefs are “The leader looks like the person in your mirror” & “All good leadership is optimistic.” I am the author of “Optimism: The How and Why” and “The Case for Optimism: The Optimist's Voices”. I am the Founder and Editor of “The Australian Leadership Project” ( I am an author, speaker, compère, moderator, barrister and researcher. In prison, schools, universities, boards, corporates, NGOs, conferences and retreats I have shared the learnings from “The Case for Optimism" & The Australian Leadership Project. I am available to moderate roundtables and retreats, deliver keynote speeches and conference panels and one-to-one coaching. For the right causes, we undertake CEO & board searches with optimistic leadership as the sought-after quality. My life experience includes stints as Commissioner to the Americas, 18 years a parliamentarian, practice as a barrister, mediator, arbitrator, businessman and board service. I was Senior Engagement Adviser in the Australian G20 presidency supporting Australian leadership of the G20 Finance Ministers & Central Bank Governors & in the Brisbane G20 Leaders Summit described by the Prime Minister as "the most important gathering Australia has ever hosted."