Canberra Australia

Canberra Australia
Capital of Australia

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Competencies Needed by Today's Leaders


While it has long been generally recognised that leadership is-even- the key factor in the success of organisations, both a voluminous literature and much real life experience attests to the perennial difficulties of finding good leaders.  The current spate of resignations and sackings of CEOs as experienced in both Australia and the United States underscores the problem as experienced elsewhere.  It now seems that the situation would be improved were more attention to the importance of values, conscience, collaboration and mentoring in the search of better leaders.

As a consequence, especially within the Australian public sector there is now increased pressure for more egalitarian forms of management for government organisations to ensure that stakeholder interests take better care of stakeholder interests and to open decision making processes much more often to stakeholder participation.

Of particular import to leadership in the Australian public sector bodies, the last three decades have seen dramatic change in the political environments of a number of English speaking countries, in particular the USA, Britain, New Zealand and Australia especially in the cases of governments coming to power of parties espousing a mix of neo-conservative views loosely labelled Reaganomics or Thatcherism. Prominent among these were a belief in the innate superiority of the private sector over the public sector, and consequently in the needs for government to be run more like a business and for the slowing down or reversing of a perceived growth in the size of government.

Additionally there has been in Australia more recently a general public pressure for more egalitarian forms of public management where government bodies are required to take stakeholder interests fully into account and to open decision-making processes to stakeholder participation.

In pursuit of these goals recent Australian governments have moved to modify government structures to ensure that the constituent organisations practiced these views and so make a better fit with their environments. Many of these consequent changes occurred under the label of New Public Management, and most, if not all necessitated a major shift in the values and culture of the public sector. In the public sector therefore the answer to the question, ‘what do organisations seek to change?’ is increasingly, their cultures and values. Importantly there is much evidence that successful implementation of such dramatic changes is heavily dependent on the quality of leadership at both the political and management level.

Leadership Styles

In today’s environment it is important to realise that the role of leader is not restricted to gender nor is leadership necessarily the intellectual property of a specific age group or social class or restricted to hierarchical situations.  Leaders and leadership necessarily are different in the practical and political contexts of government. Importantly transformational leaders are those capable of shifting beliefs, the needs and values of followers and consequently the success of these leaders in implementing and achieving effective change is derived in the ability to facilitate positive relationships between employees and the executive. This is because they can successfully communicate the purpose and process of change where needed. Other aspects of leadership are also required in the transaction processes of management especially those in program and routine settings. Transactional leadership therefore to be effective is characterised by a leader-follower relationship whereby the focus of leadership is on structures and systems of an organisation. Through a variety of task oriented and or people oriented transactions these leaders adjust tasks or rewards and structures to motivate, guide and achieve good business outcomes. This example of leadership when properly devised makes practical and concrete policy and political priorities of the executive.

Leaders to be effective must resolve the tasks and objectives of their roles in the operating context and environment of their organisations. For example transformational leaders are needed to ensure the vitality and positive motivation within an organisation but many of the judgements and strategies required need focus and delivery usually of factors to be altered in the medium, long and very long term of the life of an organisation and consequently are difficult to resolve Transactional leaders however contend with much more immediate management solutions needed to get jobs done especially in the short term and consequently can have many positive and practical outcomes needed to get work done. It is often a fact of life that managerial pressures of a transactional nature predominate and transformational change is therefore only occasional or indeed quite rare.

In the context of the Australian Public Service for example the time and continuity limitations of contract work, now common in the work place make it too difficult for transformational techniques to be effective because of the preoccupation of managers only with immediate tasks and income maintenance-especially in today’s highly politicised environment and the stronger connectivity to management outcomes which also flow on to the public domain readily.

However this does not mean that despite today’s tougher demands to be practical and efficient in the work place the very best managers although necessarily much more preoccupied with day to day routines associated usually with program management still have scope and often success in achieving improvements in the nature of group thinking of work groups and individual employees in a transformational manner. Greater change than this takes a considerable greater effort and much more luck and time but remains possible.

Leadership in Collaboration Networks

There is growing evidenced which is increasingly networked and other new ways of organising. This has become increasingly common especially because of the current emphasis on decentralising authority which has prevailed now making possible much more effective change to individual organisations which  then flows on to many other organisations also because of the increasingly important aspects now of connectivity between organisations.

Networking can therefore mean increasingly more opportunities for shared power between organisations and those who control them. This therefore makes possible the sharing of improved management skills especially those methods which foster the roles of convenors, catalysts, advocates, technical assistants, facilitators of all kinds, capacity builders and funders. Good communication can also lead to further success in this context. Also as so many organisations have taken upon themselves increasing autonomy.  Consequently resulting tensions need to be resolved and given a balanced call so that enhanced autonomy and results make possible further success in today’s environment.

Leadership and Values

Too much emphasis is put on the nature of leadership at global and large group levels. Leadership questions often arise in many, other often more practical contexts. Many of these other contexts have something in common with traditional business situations. The frequently factors omitted can mean that the need for values, especially conscience when leadership is given.  Leadership if not given a balanced call and based on conscience results in inferior leadership which necessarily means very poor outcomes. This is of course an unsatisfactory state of affairs which needs to be put aside on a priority basis. Consequently much analysis including interpersonal comparisons is needed to be inclusive of the values and other aspects of judgement to achieve success.

Finding Good Leaders

One of the problems our society has is selecting and encouraging leaders. There is as widely known too much emphasis on reliance of the process of competition which can mean a potential leader must seize the moment for recognition of personal capacity for a leadership role. Consequently there needs to be developed in accountability frameworks the concept that leaders still have rights because of the increasing nature of the forces of accountability, especially in the public domain when a leader falls short of the mark. Such rights make possible many more opportunities for appreciation of the role of a leader when fenced in by constraints which cannot be resolved especially those of a short run nature. Government and society have been often reluctant to develop schemes to bring forward new talent for leadership roles. Calls for a community wide leadership development program have been looked at increasingly put together well in Australia but these also need better scrutiny to be a successful fix the benefits of which could flow on to other leadership roles especially public affairs.  Public affairs leadership is an area where improvements can be made but this leader’s role has too often been left to the sharp end of politics to resolve in a stand alone manner only.

A better approach to leadership and development of leaders by government is needed and is a requirement of an effective society. Too much effort has been wasted in leadership development potential in Australia by relying on the frequently destructive role of interpersonal competition and the survival of the fittest to resolve leadership situations. Apart from the need to achieve greater excellence in leadership in public management contexts there is need for mechanisms and inspiration to be devised to facilitate evolution and consolidation of leaders and leadership so society can benefit and leadership in Australia be more effective and efficient.


Given the variety of leaders and leadership skills leadership is not centred on within formal organisations. For example everyday is a challenge for personal leadership and the development of personal leadership and the development of family leadership also. Many leadership milestones in organisations stem from the ability of leaders to apply lessons of personal development contexts to diverse situations including many other needs for good leadership in other contexts.

Also leaders need to be open to feedback about performance in whatever the context they operate and to improve leadership judgements. Personal experience and reliance on feedback can be the basis of informed judgement and recognise the need for integrity and respect for those collaborating. This can therefore mean leadership is better developed for other contexts.  Good leadership then depends on knowledge and appropriate adjustment to the dilemmas experienced in any operational context and therefore make possible many positive spill overs to other contexts where needed.

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