Effective community leadership is increasingly recognised in Australia, as elsewhere, as an important contributor to local economic and social development. This article examines the nature of community leadership in four Central Queensland towns as part of a wider project to test the links between it and the pace and form of local development. Empirical data on leadership questions were collected from in-depth interviews with prominent local individuals. The resulting information enables a comparison of the quality and depth of leadership present in each of the towns. The capabilities of key leaders are assessed on the basis of four leadership functions and eight variables representing personal attributes. In addition, the authors develop, and in turn evaluate, a set of a priori propositions about the exercise of leadership in small Australian country towns. The information provided and its subsequent analysis reveal that leaders' backgrounds, styles and abilities vary substantially between the four towns studied and are changing for a variety of reasons.