Leadership Profile: Michael Dowling AM

14 September 2017 By Will Brodie

Michael Dowling was recently honoured with an Order of Australia  for “…significant service to the community of Geelong through leadership with a range of social welfare, business and education organisations.”

Modest Michael makes it sound like he was simply in the right place at the right time. On his first day with chartered accountants Day Nielson, in 1976, the Art Gallery of Geelong rang, seeking a replacement secretary.

Michael didn’t know there was a gallery in Geelong. He’d been in town for less than a week. But he became secretary for eight years, then President. 

“People who have a board or organisation who are thinking of setting something up, they need someone with a legal background, someone with a financial background… So often you would get asked ‘can you do this?’.”

Michael answered ‘yes’ more often than not.

“Living in a community like Geelong, you know people and they know you. You know all the organisations, you’ve got a pretty good understanding of what’s going on in town... You’re meant to take 10 minutes to get the paper and you come back an hour later because you’ve run into somebody.

“They don’t put an ad in the paper for an honorary treasurer. They think, ‘Oh, well, we know Mike because we met him down at the Art Gallery or the Chamber of Commerce or parent’s day at the college…

“People will say ‘he seems like a good bloke, he’s got a preparedness to do these things’.”

Successful in business, Michael feels an obligation to give back to the community.

He quotes Winston Churchill: “You work to earn a living but you give to make a life”. And: “to whom much is given, much is expected”.

He concedes that he has a “willingness to take on responsibility”.

Michael, a Williamson Leadership graduate in 1995, says most leadership books need to be pulped and an MBA won’t make you a better leader.

“It’s the group that chooses the leader rather than someone standing up and saying I want to be the leader...

“The individuals who make up the committee or board or team… are best able to choose the leader that the organisation needs at that time.”

His advice to the aspiring leader is “know thyself”.

“You’ve really got to work out who you are and what you are and what motivates you.”

“If you’re materialistic or spiritual or artistic then you’ve got to try and recognise those things… then you’re likely to have a fulfilling life and achieve what you want to achieve.

“But also really go out of your way to keep good company. If you’re applying for a job, make sure the values of the organisation are the same as your values.”

He says the “terrific” Williamson program exposed him to people with “entirely different” life experiences.

“People who worked in areas that I had no understanding of. Most of the work environments I worked in were entirely male orientated.

“One of the things I really appreciated and learned and understood better was the incredible contribution to the group the female members made and how much more perceptive they were than the men.”

He has noted that the most successful alumni had values which provided them with a point of reference throughout their careers.

“It’s extraordinary how many good people are doing good things in an unheralded way.”

Michael of course, is one of those people.

“The satisfaction you get is by helping other people, serving other people and contributing back to society.”

As his gong announces, Michael has led a satisfying life.