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Leadership skills for Australia

stephen kendal

There is ample research fully backed by commonsense knowledge fully supporting that there is a continuing need for the development of practical leadership skills, both  within business organisations and indeed in public affairs throughout Australia, because these make possible a way forward for the institutions, business organisations and individuals throughout the community. 
Businesses and public service organisations were probably the first to take time to research the skills needed to enable leaders to resolve important issues for the private sector and for government.  The focus of this work has been to support and rejuvenate skills at the senior management and VIP levels, because of the need for effective and imaginative work at executive level. It was also hoped these would trickle down to the work face at middle management and lower levels for a good overall result.  It remains to be seen whether the strategy had the effects intended. 
While support has been available for leaders in public and private organisations, it has not been sufficient to development of the knowledge and insight needed for middle managers.
Indeed middle managers have been off the target for the majority of leadership approaches, despite the clear need to service aspects of leadership especially relevant for this group, eg mentoring to foster the personal growth skills needed to make the best of situations, and to find ways forward otherwise not possible because of the glass ceiling that the majority face within business organisations. 
This often means middle management have to be satisfied with a very poor handshake from their organisation, despite any of the talents and recognition by the Australian Public Service rarely extended to funds for part-time university or TAFE diploma courses or short professional courses, which could assist a move forward.  

A raw deal of this nature means that this development as leaders becomes stultified becomes stultified.  Frustration can enter the picture and, as is well known, considerable turnover results.  In turn his often means a succession problem results, so senior management functions (for example) cannot be handed  to suitably competent and identified candidates.  This is well known to be the case for  women candidates for Secretary positions in the Australian Public Service even though women managers are presently form about 60% of APS employees. 
 Organisations — both private or public-need to allow significantly increased resources to the development of mid-level staff — either to enable successful promotion, or to enable a move to an alternate field (thus retraining), or to enable need fulfilment through the creation for higher paid staff (as distinct from line positions). 
Given the consequential frustration of middle and lower levels of management and the resultant turnover that must result it appears that Government in Australia cares very little about helping resolve the mobility and relocation issues for less successful staff of either the public or private sector. For example, why not a public authority to support relocation of staff to where they may most be needed, such as one of the nation’s major rural regions, or indeed off-shore to support the growing network of Australian- based government and private organisations.  The current approach only encourages a mentality, which is not Australian, of every man for himself, or, worse still survival of the fittest. 
Despite the obvious need for recognition and identification of top leaders, the search processes and market for such VIPs is unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy and red tape, and backroom melodramas.  Negotiations – usually not known to others – seem relied on to fix salary (especially benefit packages).  There appears to be strong reliance on Wall Street – type principles of emphasising excessive masculine traits such as survival of the fittest, and sports- like courage codes rather than formal ethics or contract compliance evaluation (often without evidence – based material to determine success). 


It is well known that public affairs here in Australia (as indeed overseas) have continuous issues of identifying leaders and policy ideas. However the policy ideas advocates through experience and often training have proven often to be the best available when presenting the options to for the community through the electoral process, for example.  

The leadership skills needed for public affairs are those therefore that become focused on community, community ideas development, public affairs debates and broadcasts for open discussion (especially of executive proposals) and, importantly, of federal and international relations.  If the open nature of the public arena were to suffer greatly or not operate as expected, the system of public leadership development and the electoral choice process relied on for corrections to be made to misdirected ideas and wrong decisions would suffer greatly.  Australians should of  be insistent the best standards are observed otherwise freedom of discussion would suffer greatly. 


Australia’s place in the world – especially since the 80’s and also more recent resources boom – means there are very strong interrelationships with the wealth, policies and challenges of the rest of the world.  People now come to live and visit from all over the world, to better understand us. 
The nature of skills development in the international area appears to be of a high standard. The few who have made it to the top of an executive tree either in the private sector or in politics, have got there after a very long period of hard knocks and determined self – reliance. 
 Australians are now well-respected and original contributors in the areas of international business (especially resources and agriculture) and politics (international peace such as Vietnam and the Middle East).  We have our own national track record and are helping others develop pathways to achieve and recognise success in these areas and have therefore the potential to offer our own understanding of leadership development.  Our academics and consultants are well equipped to offer great assistance both to developing nations such as Indonesia, and now to sophisticated nations such as South Africa, who need more strategic skills that would give further impetus to those countries’ fast growing economies, particularly in the areas of science, engineering and project management, which could guide and fast-track development of such economies. 

Our community has not learnt some lessons.  Important project and development work supported by Australia has aided a nation such as Indonesia, with infrastructure such as bridges. Similar work is needed today, especially in Africa (including South Africa)
Projects of this nature have highlighted need for high expertise in management and policy to be passed on to aid beneficiaries. 
Issues concerning management and leadership skills have become prominent in Australia  (in some States or Territories) because shortages of credentialed and experienced leaders from local government can mean lack of successful succession planning to higher levels of management and public affairs leadership. Ideally the market for leaders in all areas of government and business would be sufficient to allow mobility agency-to-agency and business to business nation wide, and recognise very little formal distinction between public and private business. If only there were an ideal world to make all this come true.

However political and business change has successes but it does have its costs.  Great leadership, for example concerning a controversy (something brand new but untried by many)’ can lead to a business or community leader loosing position unless his (her) success is rewarded because the majority of those in business or the community do not accept what is rolled out for them by a proposer.
 Consequently from the proposers, perspective there is no closure, or sale confirmed of what was offered.  It is a fact of life that the leadership skills identified in business and public affairs do not also tell us of the need for closure and effective sales skills, because these are competencies known to those who have learned from experience (especially in market driven situations) rather than literature.
In conclusion it appears that the leadership development needs of the work force are unduly oriented toward top management, rather than toward resolving the frustration and turnover issues of middle and lower levels of management.  It seems quite true that there is too much reliance on the market to rely on relocation of middle managers and lower levels of management to different organisations and locations across Australia.  The major area of skills deficiency in Australia is the international skills now needed for business organisations important for the national economy and indeed public affairs.
The models of leadership accepted so often do not include the street-smart market driven skills of closure and selling without which management and public affairs strategies are ineffective.  These skills because they are experience based do not appear sufficiently recognised by academics and consultants who are often relied on to assist with identifying, selecting and evaluating leaders.  Accordingly we all need to go forward by recognising this and accordingly changing what we think of leadership to include the skills of selling and closure.