Australia is failing in leadership!

Leadership in Australia

Australia is failing in leadership!

The Centre for Workplace Leadership revealed much about the skills of Australian business leadership in its ‘Study of Australian Leadership’, completed in 2016.

Never heard of it? You are not alone.

When asking the question, ‘Leadership at Work: Do Australian leaders have what it takes?’, the authors came up with a straight-up “No”. Has anything changed? Are businesses any better in this field than they were almost two years ago?

Certainly not. It appears that Australia is no better placed, in terms of business leadership prowess, when compared to other developed countries, than it was in 1995 when David Karpan handed down his equally damning report.

Too few organisations are focussed on instilling this critical skill upon its managers – a skill that would foster innovation, increase engagement, and improve staff morale, thereby reducing turnover, while bolstering productivity and the bottom line.


Findings from the study

Leadership matters The Study of Australian Leadership reconfirmed that good leadership drives the development of core organisational capabilities associated with meeting and exceeding targets, improving performance relative to competitors, and increasing profitability. Workplaces with more capable leaders are more innovative and strong leadership capability is directly related to a range of positive employee outcomes, including employee engagement, voice, creating a culture of learning and innovation, trust, and reduced intentions to quit.

Investment in leadership improvement reaps rewards. Investing in leadership development is positively associated with leadership capabilities, which in turn significantly enhances workplace performance and innovation. Formal training provides a foundation for the development of diverse skills associated with leadership, from technical skills to solving problems and managing change.

Unfortunately, many Australian leaders are not well trained for the job. Moreover, investment in leadership training is often misplaced. About ten times as much money is spent on training senior leaders than frontline leaders when investment across the spectrum of leadership levels is required.


The need for strong leadership

Strong leadership is more vital to our businesses today than it ever has been. An increasingly discerning work-force is less loyal to its employers than in the past. Employees have high expectations and move on quickly, which means that attracting and retaining high-quality staff is achieved by only a small percentage of businesses. Others suffer great costs resulting from churn, continual training, and rework caused by inexperienced staff members.

Moreover, industrial disruption has an increasingly profound effect on businesses in the modern era. Evidence suggests that many industries operating today will not even exist in a decade. Are business leaders aware of these threats? Are they even focused on such things? Are they stuck in the management quagmire, working desperately to eke out every possible percentage point of efficiency through improved business systems, process engineering, reorganisation, better planning tools and processes, the latest and greatest information technology hardware and software, and so on? You know the answer.

Don’t get me wrong. Our managers need high level and high-quality management education and training. To suggest otherwise is foolhardy. However, skilling leaders is equally critical.

A surprising number of those exercising leadership in our government organisations, our corporations, and our businesses have little understanding of the skills they are required to exercise. I have witnessed the surprise expressed by executives in key leading positions when told they need to actually lead their people to effect improved performance, attendance, morale, and retention through their personal leadership prowess.

Aside from often not understanding the responsibilities of a leader or how to adequately perform them, leaders often have very poor self-awareness of their current abilities. Worse, they are often afraid to admit to needing help or to ask for assistance. Here’s where the senior leaders of an organisation come in. Senior leaders need to lead, nurture, mentor, aid, assist, and often enough, pressure more junior leaders to focus on their leadership skills, to strive for excellence.


Leadership education, training, and experience

Staff members aspiring to be leaders, and those new to these responsibilities, need to be properly prepared. They need help and assistance, particularly in their early years, in addition to feedback on their performance. Without these vital components, they are doomed to failure and so are the organisations they represent.

Quality education and training opportunities are invaluable to someone new to leadership. Fledgling leaders need to be armed with the wherewithal to succeed; the knowledge and skills required to lead, the tools to use in varying circumstance, understanding where and how to continue to learn, advice on where to obtain assistance when it is invariably needed, and how to improve in self-assessment. Providing assistance in these areas will reap dividends well beyond the costs involved; the return on investment is sound.

In my experience, people are as blind to their own true strengths as they are to their weaknesses. Enabling leaders to identify where they have a natural ability to excel, aside from often being a real eye-opener, is as valuable as pointing out where they need to improve.

Further, leaders at all levels need to be provided the opportunity to practice the art of leadership. While this sometimes presents a risk, there can be no greater training ground than real life. Allowing a leader to explore, to try different approaches, to succeed and, yes, to sometimes fail, will pay great dividends.



The Centre has found that the country is currently failing to properly educate, train, and prepare its leaders for the critical roles they play. Organisations who demonstrate their appreciation of strong leadership, invest in well-considered strategies to provide quality education and training opportunities, and pursue performance enhancement through a persistent focus on leadership proficiency, will gain a significant edge over their competitors. The Study shows that investment in leadership not only makes clear economic sense but is vital for an organisation’s future.

Are your own leadership skills as strong as they could be?

Are the skills of the junior and middle-level managers that work for you enabling achievement of the very best outcomes for your enterprise?

If the answers to either of these questions are no, then take heed of the findings of the Centre’s report, “Leadership at Work: Do Australian leaders have what it takes?” and seek help. The potential benefits to each individual, and your organisation more generally, are profound and far outweigh the costs.


About the author

Daryl is a principal consultant at Defining Leaders. Defining Leaders is passionate about leadership. We believe there is no greater privilege than to lead, but this privilege brings with it the responsibility to ensure that individuals are the very best leaders possible. Defining Leaders provides high-quality leadership opportunities; consulting services, coaching, and training. To find out how we can help you or your organisation improve your leadership skills, and your bottom line as a direct result, please visit us at