Victor Perton became a barrister at a young age and then went into state parliament. Eighteen years on, politics was changing – Victor found his work was becoming increasingly negative and he wasn’t feeling fulfilled. He retired from parliament at the next election and started his own regulatory affairs business. When the government asked him to go to the US to be Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas, he arrived in the midst of the global financial crisis (GFC). Victor embraced the opportunity, and the experience was constructive, powered by the positive stereotype Americans have of Australians. When the opportunity arose to be senior adviser for Australia’s G20 presidency, Victor was exposed to learnings and amazing people at the global super-elite level.
When Victor returned to Melbourne in 2015, he was astonished by the negativity within Australia generally, and especially towards leadership. Instead of complaining about the complainers, Victor set up the Australian Leadership Project, which interviewed
more than 2500 people. The survey looked at what distinguishes Australian leaders from foreign leaders.
The survey findings revealed three key traits of Australian leaders:
- Egalitarian – In Australia, we demand that our leaders be egalitarian, meaning that they work to ensure all people have equal rights and opportunities. The prime minister travels in the front seat of the car, and we often talk to the cleaner more politely than we speak to the chairman.
- Self-effacing humour – As leaders, we are confident in our ability to exert control over our own motivation, behaviour and social environment. We laugh at ourselves but take our work seriously. Many countries see self-effacing humour as a weakness, but here in Australia, we see it as a statement of self-confidence.
- No-bullshit plain-speaking – We say what we mean and mean what we say and don’t back down in what we believe in.
Victor believed that if these three qualities stood out to the interviewees, he would see many examples of Australian leaders championing those traits. He was perplexed by the reality he saw: leaders fuelled by negativity, lack of gratitude and limited understanding. It seemed that Australian leaders did not know how good they had it.
The Eureka moment
In 2017, Victor spoke at the Global Integrity Summit about the case for optimism. After three days of speeches reeking with misery, he lifted the room with his message of optimism.
Helen Clarke, head of the United Nations Development Programme and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, told Victor he needed to share his message by authoring a book. Victor wrote that book, and Helen endorsed it.
In August 2019, Victor was asked to do some work on innovation and questioned on why he wasn’t extending his work globally. Victor knew the idea had huge potential, and the Centre for Optimism was born. As I write this, the centre has attracted more than 2500 members across 52 countries after only six months of operation.
This is the question that changed it all:
What makes you optimistic?
Victor has asked this question to presidents, ministers, even women digging ditches in the back roads of India, and 99% of them said they felt lifted just by being asked the question. He has asked prisoners, murderers and drug traffickers, and shared the responses to this question. The question is now fundamental to the purpose of the Centre of Optimism.
What makes you optimistic now, in the past, for the future?
To continue reading Victor's story, you can purchase Gift Mindset® online or in good bookstores.
Unpack the 6 Keys to Optimism and develop them, so you lead with strength, overcome adversity and keep moving forward.
- Make your self-talk optimistic
- Remember to smile
- Greet with intention
- Get laughing
- Surround yourself with optimists
- Be grateful
To unpack the 6 Keys to optimism, download the infographic for more information. Click here.