By Joseph Ghaly

Geraldine Kennett talks to Joseph Ghaly about Australian Leadership. Dr Geraldine Kennett is Professor of Practice in Management and Director of External Engagement at the La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University.

Joseph Ghaly: Geraldine, what are the unique qualities and features of Australian Leadership?
Geraldine Kennett: A sense of openness. We are a little bit more relaxed and laid back. I think it’s a part of the Australian culture so our leadership emulates that.

I don’t believe we always draw on international leadership practices because we tend to be more parochial and domestically focussed, particularly our corporate leadership.

The other thing I notice about Australian Leadership is that it is heavily masculine. We still don’t have many women at the most senior leadership levels. This can put a hard edge on the way we lead our organisations and put emphasis on short-term results, from a political, corporate and even not-for-profit perspective. Those organisations led largely by males at the executive level tend to focus on operations, fiscal results and business outcomes.

So even though I suggest we are relaxed and open, the dichotomy is that we are very much driven by achieving outcomes for the organisation. My hypothesis would be that with increased female leadership we would be more focused on the long-term health of the organisation, the health of the economy and the health of society in general. And some of our outcomes would be more sustainable and environmentally driven.

I get a sense that the direction we have taken in our country is very short term outcomes focused.

Joseph Ghaly: Geraldine, what are Australians seeking from our leaders?

Geraldine Kennett: Good question because Australia is in a fairly complex environment. Most of the issues that could be resolved for our society have been resolved. We know we have some social and economic issues as well as rapidly changing technology and several industry structural changes that are developing rapidly.

So, what Australians are looking for is leadership where we move from hero to host.

Australians have constantly looked for people who could be the hero and solve our problems. What we are looking for now is someone that is more of a host. That means having a more shared approach to leadership – the community gets involved, individuals wish to be involved. People want to be involved in decision making and that leads to a more collaborative society to what we have been experiencing in the past.

At the same time, Australians show a desire for integrity and authenticity. I bundle the two together because the public wants to leadership with genuine integrity. We expect our leaders to be authentic and walk the talk. We are educated so treat us with respect.

People are expecting to be led by leaders who can influence us to come along. Communities are wanting to be empowered and involved in the decisions of leaders. This means a strong envisaging leader.

The 4 ‘E’s as I refer to leadership here at the Latrobe Business School. Envisage, Enable, Empower and Engage.

Simple principles which if we lead by these principles the community and all its stakeholders will be engaged and willing to contribute to the vision or venture. The ‘how’ within these simple principles of leadership are more complex. The how or the way we lead is with authenticity, integrity, ethics and sustainability. The data from our under 36-year-old demographics show what they are expecting from our leaders includes; values, ethics and sustainability.

Overall, Australians are seeking strong collaboration, integrity, authenticity, sustainability, and ethics in the way in which we lead.

Joseph Ghaly: Geraldine, what are the finest examples of Australian Leadership you have observed or delivered?

Geraldine Kennett: Thank you. I’m going to refer you locally to Professor John Dewar, the Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University. Professor Dewar has had to make some tough decisions to ensure that the university is at the forefront of higher education for the future. He has had to be very mindful of doing this with limited resources. At the same time, John is not afraid to invest in opportunities that provide long-term benefits for the future. For instance, a new community access sports centre and new courses in cybersecurity and business analytics.

I have been fortunate to work alongside Professor John Dewar on a charity, The Australian Futures Project (AFP), that he supports out of his office. He has done this because he genuinely believes that the university has a leadership role in supporting start-up ideas that have a broader agenda for society. The AFP purpose is to create better decision making for a better Australian society. It leads forums for politicians, public servants and the community at large. It addresses how leaders beyond one’s own organisation make contributions to society.

Another example is from my former time with the Institute of Public Administration Australia. The Former CEO, Dr Kathy Laster,  would consistently act on decisions with three key criteria in mind:

  1. Did I do that with integrity;
  2. Is it a sustainable decision; and,
  3. What will be the impact on the people I’m leading, and people in the community beyond my organisation?

Reflecting on the broader impact is sustainable and ethical leadership in my view.

Finally, I work with and support Indigenous issues, in particular, the economic development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with a leader I admire – Paul Briggs, a well-respected Yorta Yorta man. He has the tenacity and an enormous capacity to think strategically and gets people at the highest level engaged in his initiatives.

Joseph Ghaly: Geraldine, what are our major challenges?

Geraldine Kennett: I think a major priority for Australia is to give our first nation’s people, economic independence and as a whole community support them in their development.

We need our leaders to enable and empower those communities and bring the rest of the country along in supporting them; that means all citizens and employers in the private, public and non-government sectors.

The other challenge is to move forward in driving our digital and experience-based economy rather than the former economy based on consumption. We need people to be really thinking about this agenda otherwise, the threat is high unemployment and a polarisation of society from displaced industries. We need to consider the jobs of the future and our education emphasis for future generations.

A sustainable planet is, of course, critical and should fair in our thinking beyond the challenges pertaining our own generation. I believe it our responsibility to develop leaders who lead responsibly and make long-term decisions that sustain future generations.

This post was originally published in the online Australian Leadership magazine.