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Inaugural Research Connections Breakfast Examines the "crisis" in Australian leadership

20 Aug 2013

The timing was right. Just ahead of the 2013 Federal Election, the University of Sydney Business School's first Research Connections Breakfast sought to answer the question, "Have our leaders failed us?"

Over bacon and scrambled eggs at the Business School's new Sydney CBD campus, more than 60 guests listened as four highly respected leaders in their own right talked about the strengths and weaknesses of "Leadership in Australia".

Chaired by the Associate Dean, Management Education, Professor Richard Hall, the panel included Brian Bissaker, CEO of Virgin Money Australia; Katharine McLennan, Head of Global Leadership Academy, QBE Insurance Group, and Jonathan Rubinsztein, CEO of UXC Red Rock Consulting.

All agreed that our leaders excel at operations management, technical skills, good governance and ethical practices. "Good corporate governance and risk controls allowed us to dodge the GFC bullet," said Brian Bissaker. "We do not suffer from systemic corruption either thanks to our very well developed moral filter."

"When the task is clear we are very good at executing that task," added Katharine McLennan

However, panellists also agreed with Professor Hall when said that, "Australians are concerned about the current standard of leadership".

"The evidence suggests that Australians are looking for leadership that is more authentic, more visionary, more focused on people and more global in its orientation," Professor Hall argued.

Amongst the our leader's shortcomings, panellists listed "short termism", an inability to see the big picture, a failure to recognise and capitalise on diversity, a lack of people management skills, a desire to avoid risk at the expense of their organisation and an unwillingness to encourage creativity and innovation.

The top down organisational structure and the carrot and stick approach to people management were deemed to be well and truly past their "use by" date.

"Leadership is a conversation, giving meaning to, defining, and articulating purpose," said Professor Hall. "Leadership is a collective process rather than one individual's heroic quest. It is a shared responsibility and a quality of organisations, rather than of individuals."

"Furthermore, leaders must now be aware that they have a responsibility for the creation of value not only for their shareholders but also for the community at large," he added.

The inaugural Research Connections Breakfast coincided with the recent launch of the Business School's cross disciplinary 'Leadership Practice and Performance Systems Research Network' led by co-directors, Professor Hall and colleague Professor Suresh Cuganesan.

"The new Research Network will look at how leadership styles and practices interact with organisational, performance and management systems to generate, or constrain value, productivity and sustainable businesses," Professor Hall said.

The Research Connections Breakfast series will continue to bring the Business School, government, business and civil society together in search of solutions to the nation's most pressing issues.