“People leave managers, not companies.” It’s our relationships that provide the glue that sticks us all together, not the onsite sports club or the free fruit and donuts. It’s also why the issue of Australian leadership is almost never off the agenda for HR these days.
Leadership development is a prime opportunity for HR professionals to demonstrate their value to raising the calibre of Australian leadership. It’s also a great opportunity for them to get noticed by the most important person in the company: the CEO. By involving yourself in the CEO’s career development, you’re basically saying: Here’s how I can help you improve your skills and self-knowledge so you can look even better on the wider stage. Evidence shows that in doing so, the company benefits in terms of morale and employee engagement.
While we can usually think of examples of good Australian leadership, the sad fact is that many have poor leadership skills – a fact that only becomes evident once you’re inside an organisation and experiencing the negative effects first-hand.
Figures from the Productivity Commission indicate that the efficiency of workers in Australia is declining, with research also indicating that less than half of Australian workers feel leaders in their organisation are effective. Most also cite their immediate manager as the worst part of their job.
“There are several likely reasons as to why our current crop of leaders are not making the grade,” says Dr Belinda Allen, co-ordinator of the Professional Certificate in Workplace Leadership for the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne.
“First, the increasing complexity and ambiguity in Australian workplaces means that leaders are being called on to transform their organisation to promote creativity, teamwork, problem solving, collaboration and innovation,” she says. “Bringing about such transformations requires a complex set of competencies and skills which have traditionally not been the focus of leadership training courses.”
Many Australian leadership development programs tend to still focus on traditional command-and-control styles and the task-oriented behaviours, such as directing and planning, associated with these forms of leadership, says Allen.
“While these behaviours are still important, the movement towards team and activity-based work and the use of more participatory styles of decision making mean that these skills alone are not sufficient. Being able to demonstrate flexible and adaptive leadership, and being skilled when it comes to the more relationship oriented behaviours associated with leadership, is also critical,” says Allen.
One of the key steps in developing these key skills is a high level of self-awareness. The more self-aware a leader is, the more strength and compassion they have, says Michael Bunting, author of The Mindful Leader: 7 Practices for Transforming Your Leadership, Your Organisation and Your Life. When leaders have these characteristic, they are more inspiring to the people they lead. According to Bunting, there are five ways leaders make wiser decisions, empower and inspire others, and make a lasting, positive difference in the world:
- Develop real-time self-awareness.
- Manage complexity and stress with wisdom and intelligence.
- Boost your capacity to learn and innovate.
- Improve your leadership skills via context-specific mindfulness practices and bring out the best in your team.
- Deliver a deeper sense of integrity, authenticity, fulfilment and bottom-line results improvement.
Another reason why leaders are failing to make the grade is the underlying assumption that, once promoted, they know what to do. Wrong. Like any employee, they benefit from training. Just because you’re a great engineer or journalist, doesn’t make you a great leader.
But we all know how busy CEOs are. When do they have the time? Allen says that increasingly, leadership development courses are also capitalising on technological advances to offer flexible modes of delivery to ensure individuals do not have to spend time away from work in order to complete training. The course that she coordinates has an interactive learning platform that enables students to study when it suits them and pace their own learning. At the same time, care has also been taken to maintain opportunities for collaboration and networking, a key feature of leadership development courses today.
As Allen and others point out, unless Australian business stops assuming that the boss “knows it all” and looks at innovative and creative ways to improve his or her performance, then companies will continue to look outside for their top, top talent.