Organisational Change Management Volume 2

Comments on Australian Leadership

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In general, Australian managers are not operating effectively as leaders. As the Karpin Report (1995) stated Australia has good managers, but many do not display the characteristics of leaders in addition to those management skills. In other words, we are over-managed and under-led. Remember: leaders need followers!!!!!!!! According to Rob Goffee (2008) followers want community, significance, excitement and authenticity from their leaders.

Furthermore, recent work (Hubbard et al, 2003) supports the findings of the Karpin Report into Australian management skills. The key strengths were perceived as

- hard-working

- flexible and adaptive

- innovative/inventive

- technically sound

- egalitarian

while the key weaknesses were

- having a short-term view

- a lack of strategic perspective

- being inflexible/rigid

- complacency

- poor teamwork and empowerment

- inability to cope with differences

- poor people skills

. The 10 ideal characteristics (in order of ranking) for an Australian leader are

- visionary

- inspirational and motivational*

- honesty, integrity, trustworthy and credible*

- good communicator*

- approachable and available*

- cares about the people (has empathy)*

- strategic

- focused and with a clear direction

- supportive*

- coach/mentor/developer*

(NB the * marked characteristics that are relational aspects of leadership)

. The Australian culture supports leaders who are visionary and egalitarian; it dislikes leaders who are narcissistic and bureaucratic. The current Australian leadership themes include

- masculine traits such as heroism, physical toughness, emotional toughness, and self-reliance

- working long hours

- not taking holidays

- family and personal needs are sacrificed for work.

. Consequently, there are paradoxes in Australian leadership aspirations between the desired and actual. These involve

- being visionary yet approachable and available

- understanding what good leadership behaviours involve, but not supporting them

- wanting a close working relationship with all levels in an organisation but the way the organisation is structured results in hierarchical/authoritarian organisational culture

- desiring a culture that is flexible to handle uncertainty but accepting that this is not the case

- desiring egalitarianism and gender equality but displaying masculine and heroic behaviours

. The future leadership challenges for Australia are

- dealing with increasing complexity

- understanding emergence

- working through relationships

- recalibrating relationships

- working from a clear values base (source: Karen Morley, 2002)

. Furthermore, the "captain/coach" leadership style has been described as the preferred leadership style for Australian organisations. This involves the following elements

- "have a go" attitude, ie being defensive has low value. Better to try and fail, than not try. This is linked with being flexible and adaptive and can be linked with the small market size of Australia

- challenging/changing the rules, ie this is linked with being flexible, adaptive and innovative/inventive. On the other hand, honesty and high ethical standards were not a top priority

- the "can do/Aussie battler" attitude, ie the idea that the battler can achieve a lot, despite the handicap of not having the right background, training, equipment or resources

- the idea of pioneering for Australia, ie a degree of patriotism (doing it for Australia)

- being determined/tenacious, ie willing to overcome perceived insurmountable barriers/obstacles

- having a team orientation, ie mateship and egalitarianism; prefer to be part of team rather than working as individuals

Some Lessons of Leadership

Ex-CEO of Westpac (Australia), Brian Hartzer, stated that he learnt 4 important lessons while head of the Australian bank.

i) need to monitor outcomes, not just processes
"... Spend a lot more time reinforcing to people at all levels to be really clear on the outcome of processes, not just doing the process, because that would highlight things that weren't going right and that should have been dealt with. Whereas people were thinking: 'we're doing what we're meant to be doing'..."

(Brian Hartzer as quoted by Sally Patten, 2021b)

ii) accountability (using a matrix reporting structure resulted in the staff not being clear on who was accountable for what; further complicated with increasing requirements of compliance functions)

iii) performance measures (increase the focus on leading indicators which staff have control over and less reliance on lagging indicators)

iv) stay calm and focused during a crisis (focus on what action is needed to fix the issue(s) and don't become paralysed with shock and fear about what might happen)

(source: Hubbard, et al, 2002)


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