Why Australians need to become better at leadership
For many years Australians have been uneasy with power, complaining about it and avoiding it in ourselves and others; wanting it but being scared of it, having seen what it did when it failed; looking to others overseas and “higher up” for the answers, according to Geoff Aigner and Liz Skelton in their book The Australian Leadership Paradox: What It Takes to Lead in the Lucky Country. It is time to demand that leadership be exercised more effectively in Australia.
The authors describe four interesting paradoxes:
- Anti-authority and authority dependent: Always looking to the centre or top of our organisations for help or to find someone to blame, we have a high dependence on authority but a low degree of trust.
- Egalitarian and hierarchical: We pride ourselves on our political, cultural and social equality, but at the same time Australia rates poorly for income inequality, and as our organisations have grown larger, so has the use of hierarchy which undermines equality.
- Relational and competitive: Our culture of “mateship” and positive social relationships mean that, outside of the sporting domain, it is awkward to discuss and engage in competition, so that innovation becomes difficult.
- Battling adversity and living in prosperity: We like to see ourselves in a story of overcoming great adversity, but this means that we lead well in times of crisis but poorly in times of prosperity like the present.
In order to forge a new Australian leadership story, the authors assert that we need to become more comfortable with understanding, owning and exercising power and authority, and using and leveraging our leadership roles. We need to be more open in the way that we handle conflict, and in our approach to competition, growth and innovation.
I found most of the authors’ arguments persuasive. I agree that the practice of leadership in Australia is more difficult than in some other countries where people are more used to exercising power or faithfully following a leader, and I agree that Australian leaders need to do better. I am not convinced that Australian attitudes to leadership are entirely derived from our history, but I do believe that this book addresses important issues which need to be discussed and debated more widely.