Leadership behaviours are more useful than leadership definitions

Sunday, June 19, 2016 - 12:51

By AIM Business School Faculty, Ian Siebert

A recent headline in the Australian Financial Review grabbed my attention: “Leaders failing in key areas of management”.

It looked the wrong way around to me while also being overly negative! Surely it should have read something like “Australian managers and leaders will benefit by increasing their capabilities in leadership”?

At least this is the message we promote in the AIM Business School – we have many great managers, but they need to be stretched more, to lead more.

The AIM Business School urges Australian managers and leaders to analyse, research and learn, while adopting and practicing leadership behaviours, such as:

  1. Self-awareness, especially with Emotional Intelligence
  2. Broad-scanning to integrate every experience, piece of research and wider-reading
  3. Change to adapt at a fast rate
  4. Innovation to continuously increase productivity
  5. Incorporate thinking from diverse, well educated, savvy and confident workforces
  6. Analyse and use many different styles of management and leadership, when they’re necessary and appropriate to the circumstances
  7. Challenge the status quo and be crystal clear about the purpose and vision we are asking our-selves and our organisations to achieve.

While the recent Leadership at Work study has generated significant attention, there is still much we can learn from an earlier study as Ian Siebert explains.

This apparent mismatch in my head between the AFR headline and the AIM MBA encouraged me to keep investigating. The AFR article turned out to be about a major 100 page Report released last weekend, Leadership at Work: Do Australian leaders have what it takes? This new Report defines leaders as people occupying three levels in organisational hierarchies, Senior Leaders (typically CEOs or directors, but can include other senior managers), Workplace leaders (general managers, operations managers, or those with a similar title) and Frontline leaders (any other individual at the workplace level who has supervisory responsibility).

Gahan’s comprehensive Study of Australian Leadership (SAL) is the first of its kind since the Karpin Report back in 1995. It was the Karpin Report that first brought me to AIM and influenced the development of the course that eventually became the AIM MBA. Our core proposition in 1995 was that Australian managers could be educated to use soft skills to add to their world-class technical expertise, to make them more effective. We also developed an Australian context for the Managerial Competencies Framework from the UK.

Over the 20 years since, I’ve observed Australian managers achieving new threshold levels in terms of their self-confidence and workplace relationships, but SAL is about the next leap required now in diversity, innovation and leadership.

SAL acknowledges how difficult it is to define leadership and leaders yet it proceeds to use three traditional position based organisational level definitions. The AIM Business School perspective is different – that leadership behaviours matter most, and that leadership behaviours can be demonstrated at ALL LEVELS in an organisation hierarchy. A leader in this case is defined as someone who realises something is amiss in their workplace, takes action to do something about it and improve the situation.

SAL also includes an excellent re-cap on the different outcomes expected from management and leadership – management processes increase certainty of planned outcomes and leadership is about change via challenging the status quo, looking further forward in time and aligning and inspiring people.

What is agreed is that we all need to do more as managers and leaders to innovate, promote diversity (in terms of age, gender, ethnicity) and improve the succession and development of leaders. We also need to improve the quality of our leadership education, applying these to develop others and improve organisational performance in Australia. We all need to learn from our experiences and set new, higher goals with measurable thresholds.

SAL Leadership at Work is definitely a Report with much to offer Australian managers and leaders, but I maintain the headline in the Australian Financial Review is the wrong way around and SAL could have considered wider definitions. As leaders, our roles include developing more leaders and the AIM Business School course aims to be that starting point.