Want better IT leadership? Take a look in the mirror
If there was one thing that I could change in our Australian culture, it would be to get rid of “finger pointers”, and have more people look into the “mirror of self-analysis”, to honestly take stock of their leadership strengths and weaknesses, and ask themselves: “What can I do to make the wheels of Australia go around more efficiently?”
Having said goodbye to the industrial revolution, we are now on a fast-moving escalator: the technological information era. Get off it at your own risk. There was a time when you had a certificate, a diploma or a degree, and you were set for life. Not any more! Graduation is synonymous with retirement. Lifelong learning is now a non-negotiable.
The challenge of change, never ending change, constantly renders leadership gurus, textbooks and an endless supply of management fads redundant.
This in turn suggests that leadership and management education and training needs even stronger emphasis on how to think through situations, rather than stipulating what to do, and how to do it.
A partial definition of leadership suggests that leaders of Australians should be able to move naturally and comfortably among all Australians ? from the left to the right, from the haves to the have nots, from the waterfront to the executive suite ? listening, communicating, inspiring. If you accept this, ask yourself two questions. Who, in current or recent times has this quality ? who is our “Pied Piper”? The most common answer I get is Bob Hawke. That in turn brings up the issue of the effective life cycle of the leader ? how long before the leader tires of the effort required to move across the spectrum that is now a multicultural/multi-valued Australia? Some would say that Mr Hawke “hit that wall” in year seven of his nine years as the CEO of Australia.
The second question is more important. Do you have that quality? I don’t know how you can be a leader of change if you don’t understand the people you are trying to change ? if you constantly gravitate towards people like yourself, socially and professionally.
My recent involvement with the mighty GE ? a company that “makes the numbers dance” ? convinced me that too many companies in our country carry “dead wood” for too long. While GE’s policy of sacking about 10 per cent of its workforce annually for failing to meet the GE values may be brutal, tolerating unsatisfactory performance for too long can jeopardise the entire organisation.
What would happen in your organisation if we went to the “coalface” and asked the workforce:
- Do you know what the vision of this organisation is?
- Do you know what role you play towards that vision?
- What training have you been given to enhance your performance?
- What performance feedback [good and bad] have you received about your performance?
- What special training have you been given to strengthen your identified weaknesses?
The failure to adopt this type of approach can, in my opinion, lead to an unjustified “pink ticket”, an unfair dismissal.
It is a source of concern that we as a people are arguably the world’s best in team sports, as per capita, we constantly meet and beat the best. Come the weekend, give us a set of common colours, the right training with a common goal, and we work together to win. One player drops the ball, the other picks it up. On Monday, on the way to work, road rage rejuvenates individuality. At work, departmentalism takes over; when someone drops the ball they are told, “It’s your department, you pick it up.”
As the chancellor of RMIT University I constantly asked businesses what they wanted, above all, in our graduates. They all emphasised the need to be a team player, the ability to fit in at an organisation, to work with others.
Teamwork and teambuilding should be so much higher on academic and corporate training agendas.
I never thought that I would see the massive shift that has taken place away from autocratic command and control leadership style, to participation, communication and consultation. But watch out. The pendulum may have gone too far and diluted decisiveness. “Consensus graduation” involving pink papers, white papers, subcommittees and consultants can too often lead to second-rate decisions that come too late.
My own lifetime journey has convinced me that whatever your qualifications and achievements, without high standards of ethics and integrity you have nothing. As a director of the St James ethics centre, I was astounded when our CEO, Dr Simon Longstaff, asked the graduating class of one of Australia’s leading business schools how many of them thought they could get through their business careers without significantly cheating or lying? Their answer: Zip! Gordon Gekko is alive and well. “Greed is good” is his creed. Look in the mirror of self-analysis and be proud of your ethical standards ? even when, in the short term, it may cost you.
While the global village and industry rationalisation has taken control of a big part of our lives, the one thing where we remain absolutely in control is our attitude. My journey has taught me that life is about 10 per cent of what happens to me, and 90 per cent my attitude to how I handle the situation.
Leadership is not a continuous success journey: leaders bruise, bleed and hurt, they lose jobs, don’t get jobs, stuff up jobs. They don’t run away to Spain! When they have a setback, they give the body air, go to training and kick another goal. It’s like bad press ? two days after you get bad press, there are two people who remember it, you and the bloke who wrote it.
This is an exciting time to be involved in the challenge of change, to be on the escalator. Get yourself some role models and a mentor to help you on your journey, and constantly look in the mirror of self-analysis to update your own personal development program. I wish you well!
This is an extract of a speech presented in November to Minesafe by Ivan Deveson, chairman of United Group, former Lord Mayor of Melbourne and former national president of the Australian Institute of Management.
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