Five requirements for effective leadership in government

Paul Maddison, currently the Canadian High Commissioner to Australia, has undertaken many new challenges throughout a 40-year career and was kind enough to share five requirements for effective leadership.

After diligently working his way up the ranks of the Canadian Navy, he was appointed Commander of the Royal Canadian Naval fleet in 2011. Following his retirement from the military in 2013, but with his passion for leadership still strong, he found himself where he is today.

Naval culture runs deep for Paul. After seeing his older brother’s naval mentor as his own, Paul formulated his leadership style around a similar approach. By using authentic communication, adapting to change, preparedness, be inspiring and listening, Paul has led a highly successful career in a variety of leadership roles and here’s how you can take the same approach.

Authentic communication

One of the most important approaches learnt from his mentor was the belief that experience builds courage, humility, modesty and the tools necessary to advance in your career. To Paul, storytelling was a powerful tool in delivering authentic communication, effectively sharing messages and leading your team to success.

Paul describes storytelling as a full circle tale; it’s about finding relevance in a problem or challenge someone is facing and using your experience facing similar difficulties to help them through. This not only encourages your colleague but also creates a stronger bond between the two of you via a shared experience.

One approach Paul uses is as follows; “Look, I was you. In fact, I would like to be you again because I really, I’m excited about the challenge that you’re facing here, and it’s the right challenge because it’s at the heart of our profession. So, I was on the other side of this table once or twice, or three times, and this is going to work, and here’s how it’s going to work for you, and you have my confidence.”

The idea behind this is that it puts rank and pay bracket aside and instead connects both people to build a stronger team and connection.

Adapting to change

Throughout Paul’s working life, he has found himself in several situations which have required adaptation in a range of ways – and a great deal of self-belief.

While in the Navy, Paul worked his way to the highest position, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy. A daunting title and an incredible amount of responsibility. At times like these, he recalls feeling well outside his comfort zone and fearing he wouldn’t live up to the expectations of his peers and country. To maintain perspective and not be overwhelmed by the enormity of a role or title, Paul suggests remembering that one experience or role gives you their skills and confidence for the next, which then provides you with the same for the step-up after that – and so on and so forth,  all the way to top.

These skills also applied when Paul arrived in Canberra to begin his current role as the Canadian High Commissioner to Australia. It was quite the career change in some ways after the Royal Canadian Navy providing all the resources and manpower asked for his role here saw him in charge of some 45 people.

Though very different to what he had experienced during his time in the armed forces, Paul was ready to adapt. He drew a number of comparisons between the Navy and his new career as a diplomat, seeing similarities in strategic style, teamwork and communications.

“It’s like a spiral of experience which generates confidence and competence and as you go through very difficult challenges and get through them, you develop an inner voice that says, ‘You’ve done this before. You know how to deal with adversity and whatever comes, you will manage again, as long as you have the right people around you who are leaning in with you’.”


To lead effectively and build a strong connection between yourself and your team, being prepared and taking a proactive approach to every aspect of your role is crucial to build trust and maintain morale. For Paul, whether he was talking in front of 20 people or presenting to hundreds, it was important to him to be prepared. If you’re caught short on time, Paul’s top tip is to mentally organise three points to share.

 “When you’re in a serious meeting or a serious decision point, or when you are communicating in front of a group that needs to hear your message and you need them to try to understand your message, you need to go in prepared, and a good friend of mine used to say it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are and how much passion you have when you speak publicly, or whatever, you need to really think about it in advance and come in with your three key points, and state your three key points.”

Be inspiring

In a similar sense to recommendations on storytelling, inspiring your staff is another key outcome from engaging your audience. By inspiring your team, you prepare them to go above and beyond with their tasks promoting growth in their character, skills and ability.

Reflecting on generational changes in the Navy, Paul discovered the importance of inspiring your team.

“[We] recognised in the new generations, younger generations coming up, a real desire to be consulted, to be enabled and empowered, to contribute on a respect based level, regardless of rank, or experience, or pay grade or whatever, in any instance.”

This saw teams work better together, by putting rank aside and reaching their goals with greater success. Though are reasons certain people are in charge, it’s important to work together and hear why your team thinks one way or another. This leads to the fifth step, listening and understanding.

Listening and understanding

Lastly, one of the most important aspects of effective leadership is being able to listen to your team’s concerns and feedback to understand how you can better work together to reach goals. This leads to cultural change and improves the way people are able to work together.

Leadership and management styles are often influenced by those being led and managed. As such, Paul saw (and adapted to) many changes in communication style as younger Canadians joined the Navy. Once personnel would do what they were told, no questions asked – the proverbial if you were told jump, you ask how high. But with shifting demographics joining the force, a consultative communication approach was needed.

“It changed from the commanding officer saying, ‘This is how it’s going to be done, this is what I want, get on with it’ to ‘This is my intent. These are the effects that we are hoping to achieve. I cannot do this on my own obviously. We, as a team, we will need to harness all of the talent we have individually and collectively to get there. I’m relying on you. What are your ideas? How are you going to do this?’”


So there you have it, five key leadership skills as gleaned from our chat with former Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy turned High Commissioner to Canada in Australia, Paul Maddison. There are undoubtedly lessons for leaders and managers across all industries.

Hear more from Paul Maddison on our InTransition podcast (now rebranded as GovComms Podcast) which explores the above ideas and more. 

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