For every organisation, disruptive technology, global connectivity and viral communication are bringing fundamental changes to the way they deliver services, measure their effectiveness and the way they interact with an increasingly mobile and discerning workforce.
To remain relevant in this rapidly evolving landscape, organisations, particularly government need to be agile, respond with authenticity, care and speed to the changing needs and expectations of the public.
In this environment, leaders need to be able to build and motivate resilient teams that can pivot quickly and embrace change. The APS Review reflects this view and calls for clear action to develop the capability and skills of the Public Sector. Indeed, David Thodey, Chair of the Review, has said any change to the APS will not endure unless the APS workforce itself is prioritised. This includes boosting its leadership, capability and diversity.
‘Traditional’ leadership skills like strategic planning, analytical thinking and big-picture decision-making remain critical. But to shine a spotlight on exactly the skills and behaviours of leaders today, the Australian Institute of Management conducted its inaugural Leadership Survey in 2019. The results of our survey show overwhelmingly that leaders need to prioritise interpersonal or so-called ‘soft’ skills in order to foster teams that are engaged and motivated to deliver organisational goals. Furthermore the feeling from respondents indicated that having leaders with exemplary ‘human skills’ will become ever more important as ways of working become even more diverse.
In our Leadership Survey, employees point to communication and people management as the two biggest problem areas leaders need to strengthen. These skills are also among the top three skills nominated for great leaders. Yet organisations tend to build these in isolation or focus only on one aspect such as writing briefs or performance management. A leadership development strategy needs to be integrative and experiential to allow leaders to develop new behaviours, perspectives and practice skills in a psychologically safe environment where workplace support, social learning and coaching is also built in.
Similarly, when asked to rate their own performance, leaders revealed telling performance gaps. On average, managers rated their own performance 25 per cent higher than the ratings given to them by their employees. The biggest performance gaps were:
- Displaying honesty and integrity: 31% gap
- Coaching and mentoring: 31% gap
- Displaying emotional intelligence: 29% gap
This lack of self-awareness can present a bigger problem for leaders than a lack of skills – leaders may not be aware of behaviours they need to develop or strengthen. Self-awareness has been pinpointed as the most important capability for leaders to develop, according to How to Become a Better Leader. Authors and MIT professors Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux believe good leaders make their roles look easy, “but the reality is that most have had to work hard on themselves — by managing or compensating for potentially career-limiting traits”.
Effective leaders communicate a vision that isn’t a series of commands or lofty goals, but rather a shared set of objectives. In revisiting Stephen Covey on the subject, he says, “Only when we truly understand and accept the concept of leadership as a choice are we able to replace the notion of leadership as a position with leadership as influence,”.
Fabian Dattner of the leadership consultancy Dattner Grant believes that addressing these problems is also a question of fundamental structural and cultural change. “At times leaders need to get off the top of the pyramid and come into the middle of engagement as an enabler, as a facilitator, as a coach – not as a source of all knowledge,” she says. “Because no one person, no group of clever executives, can conceivably determine, in isolation, the future of any organisation, small or large.
Although the future is digital, solving the human skills problem is not. We are naturally social beings and need to be able to support the practice the becoming better humans through interaction.
For more information on the AIM State of Australian Leadership whitepaper contact the Public Sector Team on (02) 6120 1980 or via aim-publicsect[email protected]