Council Profile: Matthew Butlin

7 March 2011 By Leadership

Matthew Butlin
Matthew Butlin

Matthew Butlin started his career as an economist at the RBA, progressing to prominent roles in the public and private sector, and is now the Chair of the Australian Competition and Efficiency Commission and sits on Leadership Victoria’s Council. He is also the subject of this month’s Council Profile.
What do you value most about your role on Council?
The opportunity to offer some views and judgement based on experience and work with the very capable executive team making changes at LV.

What makes a good leader?
Someone who understands that in order to achieve complex outcomes you need to understand different approaches. Someone who can give some thought to the desired outcome, understand what needs to be done in order to get there and who can be brutally frank about their own abilities or shortcomings and those of their team.


You get powerful acts of leadership when things change and stay changed. Of course there needs to be some element of charisma in any leader, but they also need to have the capacity to lead a team, break through logjams, get a team to find a solution and systematise that solution. Sometimes, the sort of leadership qualities I’m describing don’t exist in one person. It might be better to pair, say, an ideas person with someone who understands how to implement those ideas, it might be the combination that works rather than the individual.
Can you describe two key moments in your life that have shaped you as a leader?

There have been a few pivotal moments in my career, partly driven by circumstances, where I’ve been exposed to high integrity leaders in difficult circumstances. In the late ‘80s, just after then Treasurer Paul Keating made his famous ‘banana republic’ remarks, I was a part of a dedicated team who focused on a body of work to get government finances in order and achieve micro-economic reform. There were some difficult decisions that had to be made, they weren’t my decisions, but I watched a team of people put through reforms and sometimes that meant they cut things down quite radically. It was a difficult process. But to see people I admired do that with a lot of integrity and  in a human way was very influential.

The other pivotal moment came from insights from doing a leadership program that allowed a very diverse group of people to come together, it was quite powerful. The program made me aware of how I worked with other people and allowed me to implement changes in the way I worked and re-focus on what we were trying to achieve at CRA Limited (now Rio Tinto).

One of the things I like about WCLP is it comes at a time in most peoples careers when they know their own job well, they know their organisation well. The program gives them the opportunity to be exposed to different people and think about the way different people might approach situations, being influenced by such a diverse range of people from some very diverse organisations creates an ‘aha!’ moment.
How has your leadership style evolved? What lessons have you learnt?

I started my career in a technical discipline. When you work in a technical discipline you tend to be focused on the joys of that discipline and are not necessarily focused on people. When you move to a management position, as you deal with more complex and longer term tasks, you have to, necessarily, understand how to work with people. Through that transition process I learnt the importance of self awareness, people who aren’t self aware aren’t attuned to how their behaviour impacts other people, and they won’t be good leaders.
What’s the best piece of advice you could offer any leader?

Have a constant thirst to know more about yourself, particularly about things that impact others. Be aware that there’s a richness to be gathered in diversity and learn to be a much better listener than you are a talker. It’s important for any leader to know how to speak but you also need to be able to listen, it’s an important discipline.