Archives for posts with tag: Leadership

A recent Innovation Survey we conducted with Melbourne University highlighted a prevailing lack of business leadership as the primary impairment to workplace innovation and business profitability in Australia. In light of this, I sat down on Tuesday with Federal Minister for Small Business the Hon. Bruce Billson, innovation expert Professor Danny Samson and a select handful of accomplished innovators for a roundtable about how we can better foster a culture of innovation in Australian workplaces.

Below are some simple steps we all agreed business leaders could take to ensure a profitable and sustainable culture of innovation…

Be at the main game.

Don’t wait for innovation to happen to your business – go out and find it! Look everywhere from your own backyard to the far corners of the globe. Inspiration for innovation is everywhere but it won’t just fall into your lap.

Show your hand.

Be a mentor. Get a mentor. There’s a serious cultural flaw in Australia of great innovation being a closely guarded secret. Sharing smart innovation and the processes that inspired it generates more and better innovation – it’s a healthy and productive cycle.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Be willing to invest time, energy and resources into the cultivation and execution of innovative ideas. Keep an open mind to new processes and approaches and don’t be scared of failing – if you’re not failing sometimes, you’re not truly innovating! Really great ideas are often inherently risky – if they weren’t, everyone would be doing them.

Know When to Call Stumps.

Make sure you’re measuring the impact of new initiatives. If you’ve given it everything you’ve got and it’s just not working, shut it down and move onto the next great idea. There’s no point clinging to an idea that’s not working out purely because you’ve already invested in it.

Are you a business leader struggling to cultivate more innovative business practices? Or have you already successfully found ways to innovate in your workplace?

Which Australian businesses or organisations do you see as leading the way with innovation?

Tony Gleeson is the CEO of the Australian Institute of Management – Victoria & Tasmania.





In part 1 of this post we spoke about new research which is telling us that we should lead with warmth before strength and spend most of our time building on strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.

Let’s look at more of the rationale behind this new way of thinking.

Spend More Time with Your Strongest Performers

This advice will be controversial, because for many years leaders have been exhorted to coach their weakest links.  However, Kim Cameron from the University of Michigan has found that “Managers who spend more time with their strongest performers (rather than the weakest performers) achieved double their productivity”  (Cameron 2012).

That is not to say that you can simply ignore the underperformers and weaknesses, they do need to perform above a certain threshold. But it means shifting your emphasis, time, energy and effort to your stronger performers and strengths.  (I can hear the collective gasps! I did say this would be controversial).

A large-scale study by the corporate Leadership Council (CLC) found that an emphasis on performance strengths lead to a 36% improvement in performance, while emphasising performance weaknesses, led to a 27% decline.

Positive Leadership Inspires

You don’t have to look far to see how positive leadership inspires.  Consider the antipathy felt by Australians to negative election campaigns. Yes they can work in the short-term, but ultimately they don’t really inspire us to action.  They don’t turn disinterested, disengaged staff into engaged and willing followers.  It takes inspiring leaders to inspire – and you can’t inspire with negativity.

On the flipside consider people like Ghandi, JFK, Nelson Mandela even Jamie Oliver. They all believed in their people and had a positive vision.  They all moved and inspired millions.

What You Can Do – 3 Tips

We can all benefit from overcoming our negativity bias, and practising more of an abundance (positive) approach.  Here are some steps you can take right away:

1         Give praise and thanks at every opportunity.  Don’t praise things that are not praiseworthy.  Do take every opportunity that you can to notice strengths and good performance.  Notice it out loud.

2         Lead with warmth.  Build a link with your followers and then demonstrate strength.

3         Begin to shift the balance of the time you spend with your weakest performers towards spending more time with your strongest performers.  Don’t shift everything overnight, and don’t abandon your weakest performers altogether, simply change the emphasis.

You will find you start becoming more engaged, more proactive, and you may even find yourself enjoying your role a lot more.  To paraphrase Kim Cameron:

Take a chance to err on the side of abundance thinking rather than deficit thinking and you will have more chance of achieving greatness, rather than just meeting a standard.

Cris delivers a wide range of leadership, innovation and change programs with a special focus on the latest thinking from Positive Organisational Scholarship and Positive Organisational Development.  Some of his specialty programs include Inspiring Leadership, Work Smarter, Innovation, Taking Charge of Change, and Building Resilience.

Cameron, K. (2012). Positive Leadership and Extraordinary Organisational Performance. Deans Lecture Series, Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Melbourne.

Cuddy, A. J., M. Kohut, et al. (2013). “Connect, Then Lead.” Harvard business review 91(7/8): 55 – 61.


The preoccupying question for all organisations regarding their staff is:  “How do I get the best or better performance?”

For leaders and managers this translates to “how do I improve the performance of my team?”

Traditionally, the wisdom has been that leaders need to:

  • show strength
  • attend to the weak links in the team
  • fix what’s wrong

The analogy that is commonly used is that teams are like chains, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Hence find the weak points and fix them.  I am using broad brush strokes, but essentially all leadership training has had these as their (unconscious) premises.

They are wrong.  In fact, the opposite is true.

Leaving aside that teams rarely work on a single sequential task (so they are not like chains at all),  this point-of-view is now being discredited by the new fields of positive organisational scholarship (POS), and positive organisational development (POD).

If you lead with strength, spend most of your time with your poorest performers, and concentrate on fixing what is wrong, then all you will ever do is raise sub-optimal performance to average levels.  You will teach your team to be cogs in a machine and anchor yourself to the one spot, while all around you moves.

Now this may work in some organisations, but most organisations need to perform better or at the very least stay ahead of their competitors.  That means they need to be better at handling knowledge, innovation, making decisions, and responding to an ever-changing marketplace.  To do that they need to inspire staff to perform at their best, not just raise them to be average.

A good metaphor for this is to think of performance as a yacht.  It may have some holes in the hull and it has sails that propel it to its destination.  Repairing the holes is akin to fixing the weakest link.  While fixing leaks will stop the yacht from sinking it won’t get you to your destination.  To do that, you need to fill the sails with wind.

Similarly with teams, attending to the weakest link may stop things from going wrong, but only a strength-based, positive approach will fill your sails with wind, and get you to the finishing line first.

What new research in psychology is telling us is that you should lead with warmth, not strength and spend most of your time with your strong performers building on strengths rather than focusing on poor performers and weaknesses.

Lead with Warmth

Recent research by Amy Cuddy (Harvard Business Review), Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger, posed the question “Is it better to be loved or feared?” (Cuddy, Kohut et al. 2013)  They found that while both were important, people are much more receptive to your leadership and your message if you lead with warmth first, and back that up with strength (or more accurately competence).

Warmth builds trust, and only with trust are your people going to intrinsically adopt the values and mission of the team or organisation.  The key word here is intrinsic; you want them to personally commit to what they’re doing, rather than just paying lip service.

A warm leader that is incompetent will garner pity and not respect.  However it’s also true that a strong leader without warmth will only garner fear.  You should lead with warmth to build up trust and then display competence (or strength).

Part two of this guest blog post by Cris Popp will be posted later this week.

Cris delivers a wide range of leadership, innovation and change programs with a special focus on the latest thinking from Positive Organisational Scholarship and Positive Organisational Development.  Some of his specialty programs include Inspiring Leadership, Work Smarter, Innovation, Taking Charge of Change, and Building Resilience.

Cameron, K. (2012). Positive Leadership and Extraordinary Organisational Performance. Deans Lecture Series, Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Melbourne.

Cuddy, A. J., M. Kohut, et al. (2013). “Connect, Then Lead.” Harvard business review 91(7/8): 55 – 61.

Whilst the top job in organisations is occupied by the hierarchical boss, that doesn’t necessarily make them the leader.

The behaviours required to secure the top position can be quite different from those that make an excellent leader, creating bosses that are more followers than they are leaders.

Many at the top of the hierarchy have been engaged in highly competitive and self-focused behaviour to secure their role over internal and external competitors.

In doing so, they likely over-emphasised their achievements and focused on delivery of measurable tasks to prove competency.

This is a very different set of criteria to those that make a good leader.  Of course, leaders need ambition and capabilities to be competitive and deliver successful outcomes. However, their competitive nature needs to be focused at opposing organisations’ services and products, not other people.

So what’s the difference between a boss and a leader?

Reactionary v Progressive

Whereas a boss executes reactions to situations, a real leader foresees such challenges and deliberately develops a plan that dispatches the risks to the irrelevant bin before they become an issue. Good leaders will see these issues as opportunities to be leveraged for competitive advantage.

A great leader has the ability to proactively strategise their behavioural approach and then to adapt within the moment and context. They develop leadership insight from anticipating situations and outcomes and learning as they do this.

Leaders listen to other people and engage with them about options and ideas, focusing on the future rather than the past. In doing so they challenge their followers to support them as their ideas have been incorporated and they want to be part of the joint success.

They view the past as a relevant foundation for learning, not something that will drive them towards a range of innovative options to generate a sustainable future – faster than their competitors.

Leadership success comes from causing change and then adaptively leading your people through to the new world on the other side. All this happens while the competition is still wondering what happened and why.

You can evolve from a boss to a great leader by learning to consciously determine how to behave in advance of critical moments and generating willing followers who trust your judgment because of the successful outcomes you have generated (not because of the office you occupy and the orders you give).

Dr. Shelley is the author of The Organizational Zoo and Being a Successful Knowledge Leader. He leads several professional development and mentoring communities, is the CEO of Intelligent Answers and co-ordinator of Knowledge Management and Project Management Leadership in the MBA and Master of Project Management at RMIT University.

The rivalry between New Zealand and Australia is unparalleled in the sporting arena. But the trans-Tasman neighbours have always understood the potency of the strategic partnerships they have built together.

Despite occasional political policy differences, the ANZAC relationship has endured since the two countries opted to retain their separate and independent constitutional identities at the beginning of the 20th century.

This year, for example, marked the 30th anniversary of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) partnership that has successfully driven trade both ways across the ditch.  And both governments have recently identified 30 new policy initiatives to extend trans-Tasman integration.

Building relationships is fundamental to best practice management. Politicians and policy wonks on both sides now seem determined to shape the environment in which business and organisational partnerships common to both economies can take root and flourish.

But whatever macro level policy settings are implemented, it takes micro level actions to build effective partnerships that capitalise on the nation-wide benefits of working together.  New Zealand and Australian accountants have, for instance, recently grasped the nettle and voted to merge their two professional institutes into one trans-Tasman body.

Looking for what organisations have in common to make them both richer, rather than focussing on differences that perpetuate the stagnation of status quo, is the cornerstone to building effective partnerships and an enlightened leadership outcome.

ANZAC accountants have more in common when it comes to best serving the needs of their members and their clients, an increasing number of which operate in both markets, than they have differences which suggest the retention of myopia as a strategic imperative.

And so it is with management and governance. After almost 50 years of writing about and reporting on management, governance and leadership in New Zealand and simultaneously observing the Australian scene, there’s no doubt in my mind that both countries would benefit from building closer professional management and governance relationships.

The underpinning disciplines and theories of management, governance and leadership are fundamentally universal. The similarities of approach, despite some fundamental cultural differences are greater between these two countries than between any other two societies and economies.  And the commonalities will grow as both countries change to meet future economic and social challenges.

There is nothing unique about New Zealand’s approach to management and governance – except that we are failing to keep up with the best professional education and develop opportunities  available.  It’s time to address the problem.

The New Zealand Institute of Management (NZIM) and, I believe, our Institute of Directors (IOD) should partner up with Australia’s Institute of Management (AIM) and the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD).  The beneficiaries of this strategic partnership would be individual managers and directors in both countries and the member organisations that drive our ANZAC economies.  It’s time to put customers and common sense first.

Reg Birchfield is a Life Fellow of NZIM. He was the publisher and editor of New Zealand’s weekly  business newspaper, National Business Review, from 1971 to 1983 and the publisher and editorial director of Management magazine from 1984 to 2009. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and is an author, publisher and writer on management, governance and leadership.

Bringing together a multi-state organisation under one unified national banner can be enormously rewarding – both for the organisation itself, and for its stakeholders. As we head further into the ‘Asian’ century and toward an increasingly globalised business culture, the benefits of combining a number of independent state-based divisions to create a unified, national Australian brand identity and voice will strengthen the brand and open up new opportunities for interaction, engagement and competition on a global scale. A single, united voice will be heard far more clearly on the world stage and the pooling of resources – including information, skills and revenue – unlocks new pathways for development and innovation, inevitably bolstering the return on investment for stakeholders, whether they’re staff, shareholders , members or investors.

For AIM in particular, merging into a single, unified body also reflects the professional reality of its Members. The barriers between interstate business operations have long since been overcome and most professionals now operate on a national scale. Our laptops, Skype accounts, email and iPads mean for many of us, working from a stationary office is a thing of the past. And we expect our professional networks and service providers to be equally moveable.  A professional development organisation such as AIM that can effectively travel with us and support our needs wherever we may be is surely of far more benefit than one that is anchored to our home state or city.

A merger also seems – at least to me- to align with the core vision and values of AIM – namely the advocacy, support and development of integrity and excellence in management and leadership at a national level.

Of course bringing together four independent and wholly self-sufficient offices to combine into a single entity is no mean feat and won’t be without its challenges. There will be compromises to accept and sacrifices to make. But the entity that emerges, a national AIM brand with the best of each state united under one banner, will be far better placed to engage with the challenges of the 21st Century business landscape and become a major player, thought-leader and influencer of the management industry, with a voice that will be heard around the world.

Rob Thomason FAIM is the Executive General Manager, Business Development at CPA Australia.

In challenging financial times, the need for Australian leaders to have a “global perspective” and develop a “global mindset’’ to support the growth of local business has become more prevalent.

Our research here at the Australian Institute of Management into leadership capability found that Australian leaders achieved a relatively low rating for having an international or global perspective when compared with those leaders in such countries as Singapore, India and Malaysia.

The Australian government White Paper – ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ supported the call for leaders and managers to develop a global mindset. It outlined the need for Australian businesses to deepen their experience and knowledge of Asia to more effectively engage and integrate with Asia.

So what does having a “global mindset” mean and what are the characteristics of leaders who possess a “global mindset”?

A leader with global mindset capability views cultural and geographic difference as potential opportunities.  They see that those opportunities can enhance their organisation locally or help it expand within other global locations.

These leaders have a more expansive way of viewing business opportunities, challenges and opportunities which goes beyond their own direct personal experience.

Leaders with a global mindset are open to doing business in a global context and conceiving strategies on an international basis. They understand international markets and world economic trends, and they lead with an in-depth knowledge of cultural, political and economic systems in other countries.

Leaders operating with global mindset capability have a well developed understanding of how their global industries work regardless of whether they sit within the private or public sector. They develop and utilise formal and informal networks on an international basis to gather information to achieve this understanding.

Importantly, these leaders are passionate about diversity and they build and develop culturally diverse leadership teams to succeed in business.

Global mindset capability requires a leader to adjust their approach in different cultural settings, to respect cultural differences and to identify cultural similarities. Leaders with this capability are truly comfortable about being in uncomfortable or unfamiliar contexts.

Having a global mindset also brings with it an obligation for leaders with this capability to develop an international perspective within others.

How do organisations develop global mindset capability amongst their leaders?

Developing a global mindset within leaders takes effort and investment. Leadership development strategies that can be used to develop this capability include:

Cultural Awareness Programs: Building an understanding of different cultures and providing a solid foundation for development of global mindset capability.

International Mentoring Networks: Organisations can help to develop a global mindset amongst their leaders by establishing international mentoring programs which benefit both their own leaders and leaders in other worldwide locations.

Guided Study Tours: Exposing leaders to different cultural and business environments through guided study tours is a great way to  immerses leaders in these different environments and learn through firsthand experience.

Exchange Programs: Exchange programs and/or internships which provide short term experience within a global organisational environment provides a greater understanding of how organisations operate within a different cultural, political and economic setting.

Gary Martin

Gary Martin is Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia. He is currently an Emeritus Professor of Murdoch University and Zhejiang University of Technology (Zhejiang Province, China), as well as an Honorary Professor at Guangdong University of Business Studies (Guangdong Province, China).

AIM WA is running a Global Leaders Program which is a ten day experiential leadership program conducted in China designed to foster Australian leader’s understanding of leadership and business concepts within a global business environment, specifically China. 

Imagine this:

You find yourself in a new management position. The organisation you work for is world famous. However, when you commence employment, you discover that the staff you have at your disposal are not up to the task, they have a drinking culture and are living off their past reputation.

Add to that ‘shareholders’ who are hungry for success and expect immediate results. In fact, your performance will be judged not annually, nor quarterly, but on a weekly basis.

That was the situation Alex Ferguson, ex-manager of Manchester United faced on his first day on the job, November 6, 1986.

27 years later Sir Alex Ferguson retired from football, the longest serving and the most successful manager in the game’s history of, after winning a total of 28 trophies.

But it’s only a game, I hear you say!

This is true, but it is also a multi-billion dollar industry in which the players are paid millions of dollars a year, in which recently, Gareth Bale was transferred from Tottenham Hotspur in the UK to Real Madrid for around $130 million, and where football managers last for around 1.4 years before they are fired.

The Harvard Business School recently published a case study, Sir Alex Ferguson: Managing Manchester United, which outlines a number of leadership lessons. These lessons are readily transferrable and useful for managers and leaders in any industry. They include the following:

1.      Clarify your expectations from the beginning, and be prepared to let go of staff who are not committed to the new direction. Much to the surprise of the fans, Sir Alex Ferguson (SAF) quickly released several ‘star players’ who were living on their past reputation and who were not committed to the new approaches to training and fitness.

2.      Create an atmosphere where everyone feels they have a role to play in helping you improve the performance of the organisation. SAF made efforts to create an organisation where everyone, from the superstar players through to the kit washer felt that they had something to contribute.

3.      Be prepared to take some risks in hiring staff – there is no such thing as a perfect employee. SAF took a gamble with a Frenchman named Eric Cantona who had a reputation for being difficult to handle. However with the right management approach, SAF got the best out of Cantona, made him the team captain, and he was instrumental in helping SAF win the title for United in 1993 for the first time since 1967.

4.      Praise in public, and criticise in private. Unlike other managers, SAF never once criticised his players in public, although he was well known for the ‘hairdryer’ treatment behind closed doors. This earned him the respect of his players who knew that he would always support them.

5.      Be prepared to adapt with the times. Despite having little in the way of a formal education and no recognised management qualifications, SAF was quick to embrace technology and sport science if it could help improve performance.

It is doubtful that there will ever be a football manager as successful as Sir Alex Ferguson. His success is a lesson for all of us that good managers can make a huge difference.

Finally, as I write this piece, Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement at Manchester United, David Moyes, is currently enjoying United’s worst start to a season.

Who would be a manager?

Professor Mark Farrell is Head of the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University.

When economic conditions are challenging, people feel the pressures of work and they fear about job security. These worries and fears present a major challenge for leaders who want to keep their teams on target.

Controlling costs and conserving resources is important for survival in an economic downturn, but it is also just as important to have leaders who:

  • See opportunity and work to seize it, despite all the negativity
  • Remain committed to their people
  • Can transfer their own positive outlook to those around them
  • Have the foresight to position the business to benefit where competitors falter, and be ready for when the economy recovers.

An economy in decline is an opportunity to regroup, rethink, and renew. So as a leader, how can you seize the day take advantage of these new opportunities?

Confront reality:

As the environment changes around you consider which objectives are you meeting? Which need more emphasis? Which you should be reconsidered or dropped?

Feedback from customers/clients is a great reality check; it can help you find innovative ways to add value without adding costs.

Be visionary:

Leaders with vision, passion, energy, positivity and who really engage with their staff, are the key drivers of economic growth.

In hard times, people need to hear more frequently what the plan is and be reassured of how they fit in with the overriding objectives, so work out your key messages and say them often.

Lead by example:

Lead from the front by setting the right example. Show that you’re willing to make extra effort to commit to the organisation’s success.

Expect great things from your people:

Within reason, having great expectations gives people a greater opportunity to perform which can in turn be highly motivating.

Staying connected with your staff builds relationships and trust. The more they know you care, the more likely they are to respond to your call for action.

Take the opportunity to trim costs:

Encourage cost-consciousness within your team.

Staff at any level can consider changed approaches, negotiate keener rates or look for bargains across different areas that will improve your company’s future competitive position.

Implement a continuous improvement plan:

Look at your systems and processes to find efficiency opportunities. Lead the way in building a culture of continuous improvement.

Be transparent:

If you can’t avoid layoffs, talk honestly about what’s happening and how cutbacks will affect the team. If you’re cutting people, try to cut the volume and scope of the work you do so that you don’t overload those who are left.

Take care of yourself:

Don’t forget to look after you! Get enough rest and stay fresh. Be aware of your own feelings and emotions during difficult times; if you’re constantly worried or stressed, others will sense this.

As a former Army Captain, I’m particularly wedded to comments made by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway in their book We Were Soldiers Once that I would like to share with you:

  • Three strikes and you’re not out. You’re never out unless you quit
  • The team will take it if the leaders take it. Lead by example, stay cool, and don’t show negativity in front of the team. They look to you to be strong and positive
  • Trust your instincts. They are the product of your experiences, education and personality. When seconds count, this is all you have. Learn to trust them and act on them

Miles Jakeman

Miles is a Director of Jakeman Business Solutions which is a member of the Citadel Group.  He has advised senior business leaders and government officials on a number of occasions across cultures, including representing countries in ministerial level forums.

As a professor of management at the University of Melbourne, and as an adviser to a number of companies I have witnessed firsthand the rise of innovation in businesses across Australia. It has become a hot topic given that Australia faces challenges in achieving and maintaining global competitiveness in terms of cost, service and quality in the post resources boom.

Innovation interests me as it is the ultimate competitive weapon for organisations. There is no ceiling on innovation; it can be applied in a broad range of ways, from achieving cost reduction through innovation in process management, to creating new streams of revenue.

Recently I have been involved in a combined study into innovation in Australian organisations conducted by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Management, the findings of which highlight the importance of innovation. (see full report here)

We found that innovation pays off, and the benefits are even greater when organisations are systematic about it. The data captured by our large-scale survey confirms that organisations perform better when management embraces a structured and planned approach to innovation.

No single innovation lasts forever, but you can achieve ongoing advantage through the development of what we call ‘systematic innovation capability’.

Systematic innovation capability refers to a sustained form of innovation. Rather than haphazard or unplanned innovation, it is a continuous stream that creates value and a competitive advantage for organisations.

To develop this capability, a holistic and integrated approach to innovation across the entire organisation is required. It is important for organisations to create a workplace culture where everyone feels they have an opportunity to contribute to the innovation process.

We found that firms who embrace innovation as the key focus of their operations tend to achieve an advantage. They are more likely to have higher revenue growth, profitability and productivity.

Leadership is crucial. Effective leaders put in place the right strategies, know that systematic innovation needs to be properly resourced in terms of processes and people skills, and that staff must be incentivised and performance outcomes measured.

The key building blocks for successful innovation include:

  • managers get involved in innovation projects;
  • innovation is prioritised in the business strategy;
  • business strategy and technology are strongly aligned;
  • organisations are willing to take calculated risks;
  • teamwork is emphasised;
  • employees are highly skilled;
  • clearly articulated employee capabilities relate to innovation;
  • innovation involves many stakeholders, including customers (open innovation)
  • employees are rewarded financially for innovation contributions; and
  • competitors are benchmarked.

The study also highlighted that organisations which don’t embrace innovation are not just hurting their bottom line, they are also hurting their chances to attract and retain skilled employees. The lack of growth also limits development pathways for staff.

Innovation capability won’t develop on its own; it needs to be consciously formulated, resourced and driven into place. Some key questions to ask yourself and those in your organisation are:

  • Can your organisation survive and prosper without innovation?
  • Do you have a strategy in place for innovation?
  • Do you have the right resources, skills, and systems in place to achieve systematic innovation?
  • Does your business measurement system include prioritisation of innovation measures?
  • Are staff recognised and rewarded for their contribution to innovation?
  • Do leaders ‘talk and walk’ innovation, and lead innovation by example?

How do you approach innovation in your organisation?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on our findings.

Professor Danny Samson

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