Chain Reaction Foundation

Leadership in the Family

by Margaret Bell | March 7, 2017

The Australian family looks a little different today to the way it did four decades ago. Walk into an average Australian household in 1976 and you would likely have seen a heterosexual couple raising dependent children – this was simply the most common family structure at that time.

Image via Pixabay

By 2011, this typical family had changed. The traditional ‘couple with dependent children’ structure had declined, falling from almost 50% in 1976 to around 36% in 2011, with couple-only and one-parent family structures making up serious ground. Of the 337,000 same-sex couples who lived in Australia in 2011, 12% were living with children legally recognised as their own.

So, the Australian family is in flux, but are these changes really so profound? At its heart, a family is a family, a bunch of people adults and children caring for one another, with a responsibility to one another. Just like always, Australian families need love, they need care and consideration, and within the fold they need leadership.

Leadership on a Small Scale

What do we consider when thinking of leadership in a family? Perhaps we think of authority, or discipline, or ‘ruling’ in some capacity. This is a little wide of the mark. While an element of discipline will always be necessary – both for our own well-being and for that of our children – this concept needs careful consideration when discussing true leadership.

Let’s think about what a family requires. It requires empathy, love and compassion, and it requires a team effort towards universal understanding. In addition to this, a family requires direction. This in turn requires responsibility.

This idea of responsibility is key. The leader in the family is not the one who shouts the loudest. It is the one who looks after everyone’s best interests and nurtures them towards growth. By the same token, the leader is not the person who lets younger members of the family run riot, but is the person who takes the time and responsibility to fashion a framework and structure for them.

Without effective communication, these structures and this brand of leadership cannot exist. To be an effective leader, one needs to be able to communicate feelings effectively, to listen well and provide counsel when other members of the family require it. And, most critically, to understand feelings, whether they be overtly explained or non-verbally transmitted. This is something that Pippa Murray from the Centre for Welfare Reform highlighted in 2011;

"Lacking information about what needs to happen, who is involved and when key tasks need to happen leaves families weak, vulnerable and frustrated", she said. To be a leader in a family, the parent or other family member must stay informed, and must communicate clearly and precisely to the other family members.

Family as Mutual Enablers

We’ve discussed the importance of enabling as a result of effective leadership. We have discussed this quality of leadership in terms of politicians in the highest office and in terms of educators and community leaders, but we have not yet discussed this in relation to where it is most valuable: within the family.

A society can come in many different shapes, sizes, configurations and structures, but all societies share one thing in common. They are made up of the same buildings blocks – the same atomic particles. These are, of course, the individual families that make up the fabric of our culture.

Families can protect children or they can make children vulnerable. Early Childhood Australia identified some of the key causes of stresses and dangers for children in Victoria. These included "economic hardship, unemployment, business failure, gambling or homelessness, family violence, alcohol and substance misuse, mental health problems, disability and parental history of abuse and neglect."

Children need protection from these negative influences. This is why we need families to be enablers, that is to give our citizens the skills they need to push society forwards. Not only applicable to the future generation – all Australians have a part to play in creating a social structure we can be truly proud of.

To achieve this, we start from the grassroots. We start from the homes, the households, and the families, and we ensure that each and every one understand the importance of positive leadership, direction, and a social conscience. Leadership that focuses on enabling – not prohibiting – at all levels, is how we take steps towards our goal.

Enabling the family calls for constant recognition of right doing and encouragement about getting it right.  Mistakes need to be seen as opportunities to get it right, not as moments for punitive adult behaviour.

Emotion coaching is a tool families can use to help identify how families can practise getting it right.  See “Real Parenting for Real Kids by Melissa Hood.


Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

Website | Donate to our Foundation | Contact Us | Purchase the Book |

Your donations are helping to give disadvantaged people and communities a brighter future, whether large or small every cent helps to make a difference. Chain Reaction Foundation is registered as a Public Benevolent Institution and has Deductible Gift Recipient Status. All donations over $2.00 are Tax Deductible.

Donate to our Foundation

Get Access To Our Newsletter