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Jan 4, 2009

Time for a new approach to leadership
In today’s wider moral corporate environment, what sort of leadership is needed?

Social Leadership Australia ...a decade of innovation by The Benevolent Society in delivering leadership development programs. Foundation Professor of Management Diversity and Change at Melbourne Business School, Dr Sinclair says there is no room at the inn for those with narrow experiences, those who are part of an insular elite, those who have only seen or experienced a privileged slice of life, and those who believe their way is the best and or only way.

Sadly, she adds, these are the very “qualities” that are all too often the profile of leaders that companies have traditionally selected, rewarded and elevated to leadership – executives chosen from elite schools and universities, on a managed “high potential” path through key organisational roles and spending much of their career in one organisation.

New Faces of Leadership“Homogeneity of leadership in itself also has the potential to be destructive, if not evil,” (Dr Amanda Sinclair) writes in her book (co-written with Valerie Wilson) “New Faces of Leadership” (Melbourne University Press). “Studies of the preconditions of disaster indicate that homogeneous decision-making groups are prone to disregard warning signs, to develop illusions of grandiosity and invincibility, to believe themselves to be above normal rules. Equally, whistleblowers who signal significant corporate wrongdoing are likely to be on the edge of, or outside, the dominant group.”

Part of the answer, and to provide valuable safeguards, lies in a diversity in backgrounds and perspective of senior managers, Dr Sinclair argues. In her view, Australia needs new leaders who have:

  • Ways of putting their own values in context, reflecting on how those values have come about and how they shape and limit leadership practice;
  • Well-practised habits of being able to hear and recognise the validity of different ways of looking at and experiencing the world;
  • Identities which do not rest on membership of a single social group or tribe but are able to inhabit multiple groups and cultures without feeling threatened or paralysed;
  • Courage to stand-up to the status quo, and argue for and practise a different way of doing things.

According to Dr Sinclair, the same trends that reduce barriers and create competition have also promoted an emphasis on individualism and market-based solutions in workplaces.

“A strong value on self-help and self-reliance can tend to ignore issues of systemic disadvantage... In organisations, increased opportunities for some, accompanied with fewer traditional protective mechanisms, have translated into more atomised workplace cultures where it’s ‘every person for themselves’.”

Features of this workplace culture include:

  • Rationalising, restructuring and downsizing which cuts any slack from the system and expects one employee to do what used to be the work of several;
  • Expanding the hours of work regarded as essential, particularly among professional and managerial personnel;
  • A switch to contract-based employment, including short-term and highly-specified work to be delivered;
  •  Paring back of benefits provided by employers and a general trend to shorter periods of employment;
  • A climate of “smaller” government, lower regulatory intervention in the area of equal employment opportunity and an emphasis on industry self-regulation.

“Managers working long hours and feeling stressed have few incentives to look beyond the next reporting cycle in order to think about strategic investment in diversity capital,” says Dr Sinclair. “Within tightly monitored performance systems, what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. The evidence that managers are overburdened helps explain our findings that that while they are aware of the benefits of diversity, they are unable to act. Social Leadership Australia delivers the most comprehensive and progressive suite of social leadership programs in Australia, challenging senior people from the business, government and not-for-profit sectors to develop their leadership skills for social good. The conference will bring together many of the Social Leadership Alumni, an expanding network of leaders, and will also feature international leadership expert Dean Williams as a key note speaker.

“Ten years ago, The Benevolent Society decided to address the need for greater social leadership by taking a new approach to leadership,” said The Benevolent Society’s Chief Executive Richard Spencer. “Our hope is that through Social Leadership Australia we can channel the passion, commitment and capacity of Australia’s current and future leaders and address the challenge of finding new and effective solutions to social problems,” he said.

Media inquiries to Graham Cassidy, 0419 202 317


 

 
 
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Jenny Dooley
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