Lessons in Leadership from Ken Gillespie

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Lessons in Leadership from Ken Gillespie


On Wednesday the 12th of August ESV held its second annual Business Owners Event for 2015.  Valued clients and guests of ESV were invited to hear the incredible leadership story of Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, former Chief of the Australian Army.


In 1968, when he was just 16 years old, Ken joined the Australian Army as an apprentice bricklayer.  The amazing career that followed is one of the most incredible stories of workplace success in the modern era, culminating in 2008 when Lieutenant General Gillespie was made Chief of Army. 


At this time, Ken was CEO of a 48,000 people, $6 billion operating budget, multi profession enterprise.  Drawing on this experience Ken was able to inspire the room of business owners by offering valuable insights into what makes a great leader.



Even from his early days in the army, Ken wasn’t afraid to put his ideas forward.  He had the ability to think quickly on his feet, and this put him on the early path to leadership.  Consequently Ken became a firm believer in respecting and listening to the ideas of others.  As Chief of Army Ken was often faced with a generational gap between himself and younger soldiers – although challenging at times, it provided an opportunity to learn and hear some great ideas from young and enthusiastic people.



It is often said that knowledge is power.  Ken advised that knowledge should not be kept to create power for oneself, but shared to empower others.  Removing ambiguity not only helps to utilise the IQ of the entire team, but also strengthens the team’s trust in the leader.  People respond well to being taken into your confidence – this is an opportunity to engage and acknowledge your team.



Every leader is faced with difficult decisions.  How you handle these challenges is a reflection of your own moral compass.  Ken believed showing integrity and honesty early in his career proved to his superiors that he could be a leader.  He advised that you must own your challenges and mistakes – because even if you have passed the buck to someone else, as a leader the responsibility is ultimately your own.  Responsibility is a full time job.



Ken didn’t believe he was born a leader.  However he suggested we start to develop leadership traits from a very early age – those defining early childhood years.  As a boy Ken recalled listening to a dramatized radio show about World War Two, and the soldiers in these stories became his heroes.  From a very young age, Ken knew he wanted to be a soldier.  This became the motivation that followed him throughout his career because at the end of the day, he was where he wanted to be.


It was a real privilege to hear personal insights from one of Australia’s greatest leaders.  Ken’s leadership principles ring true across all organisations and industries – it’s all about integrity, communication and owning the responsibility. 


ESV will continue to host inspiring leaders as part of our Business Owners Series, to share their stories and insights for others on similar journeys. There is so much we can learn from the wisdom of truly great leaders like Ken Gillespie.


If you are a business owner and are interested in attending one of our Business Owner Events, please contact admin@esvgroup.com.au