Leading in a Global Context

Aussies. We’re described as irreverent, egalitarian and diverse. We are a culture on the move and that plays out for us as leaders of diverse teams. One in four of us was born overseas and for almost half of us, one of our parents was too. So what new leadership practices must we foster in order to navigate the changing face of Australian workplaces? And how are global trends playing out in the Australian context? The future of leadership will heavily focus on being able to ‘be with others’ in the richness and diversity of our workplaces which are no longer defined by geography. As command and control styles of leadership come under more intense scrutiny and our tolerance for crooked, misaligned and dishonest practices decreases (highlighted by Royal Commissions!), leaders need new ways of working. They need new role models to demonstrate these, new personal and cultural practices that are learnable and accessible, along with new skills to coordinate and collaborate in times of uncertainty and change. These skills are not text-book derived. They require leaders to think and behave differently in their operating context. They need to ask themselves new questions and be able to ‘deconstruct’ what’s happening with others for the sake of working with complexity. So are you this kind of future leader?

  1. Are you a leader who knows their ‘own’ story well enough to allow a habitual reaction to ‘diminish and quieten’ in the face of provocation?
  2. Are you a leader who recognises that the blend of social and cultural diversity in your team can be harnessed as an asset for innovation in the face of disruption?
  3. Are you a leader who invests in being a lifelong learner for the sake of keeping pace with changing markets and contexts, not to ‘know’ what’s happening, but to capitalise on trends and create possibility where others cannot?
  4. Are you a leader who’s willing to step up to the kinds of conversations we need to have within and beyond the workplace to begin navigating the increasingly growing complexity of work?
  5. If you’re in Australia, are you a leader willing to acknowledge that tall poppy syndrome as a phenomena must give way for a new order of innovation, creative freedom and collective capability?

If you find these questions compelling, consider these four reflections to advance your practice   1.  Recognise your workplace and context are changing.  We see rapid change in the profile of ‘leader’ and this rate of change is increasing. The demands on leaders to be better learners is undeniable. Where knowledge was once a commodity, it’s know-how that matters and being agile and responsive to the emergent needs of stakeholders really matters. We’re seeing younger leaders! Our web stats spike for leaders younger than 34 and our face to face work confirms it. They starting to represent the changing profile of Australia’s population and bring a richness and diversity to the workplace that requires new skills – skills in collaboration and coordination and outputs based on a shared language. If you do not enable your organisation to upskill and make space for shared understanding, you’ll end up with a very slow moving and inefficient beast. We see this emergent skills-hungry, values-led wave of leaders is now working alongside what we understand to be a ‘traditional profile’ of a leader and in the age of digitisation, quality communication is key. A message for young, emerging leaders – Stay hungry! We need your optimism and hunger for possibility! A question for already successful leaders – Do recognise this new wave of Generation Y, Z and X as a threat or a great possibility and opportunity for shared skilling? We vote the latter.   2.  Ask better, more helpful questions. Our opening question is “What are the skills and practices both emergent and already successful leaders need to share in order to collaborate, innovate and thrive in the global business ecosystem?” And what does this have to do with Australian culture? Plenty. You see, there’s another side to being an Aussie. We are a ‘lucky country’. So lucky, that sometimes we get a little insular in our view of the world and our place in it. We’ve enjoyed almost 30 years of economic growth, and even if times have been tough, relative to other nations, our times have been ‘pretty good’. According to DFAT, 1 in 5 jobs in the Australian economy involve trade-related activities. That’s approximately 1.5 million jobs in connection with exporting, and 670,000 jobs in connection with importing. So, a rock in the global trade system – the current breakdown with the USA and China, the new global alliances being built by economic superpowers and trade allegiances shifting to sure up regional hegemony matter for us. We are no longer immune and comparisons to GFC need to take into consideration that between 2006 and 2018, the value of total exports has more than doubled and the value of total imports has almost doubled. Healthy, yes. A risk, yes. Cause for panic – probably not. This is the kind of data stream a contemporary leader needs to be awake to, perhaps concerned for, but not in fear of. They certainly must be conversing about what shifting markets means for business and onboard the opportunities, bringing diverse teams into the conversations as co-creators to navigate through. 3.  Reframe disruptions as opportunities Disruptions, for the awake leader, can present opportunities. These can best be realised by the way you scan the moving context you operate within and through your capacity to recognise that workplaces as living ecosystems, always changing – inside and out – and around this you must be awake to trends, leading voices and great data. Beyond this, your job is to create the conditions for your people to participate in reading their own operating context and finding the appropriate forums and channels to discuss what they find. Leadership is no longer a solo act.  It’s about the skills and practices you equip your people with and creating spaces for conversations that matter. In a time of disruption, with murmurs of recession, trends matter – onshore and offshore. It will help if you enable your people with refined skills to bring up tough and challenging topics and to create a ‘mood’ that has others engage with what’s going on, overcoming fear to adopt ambition, optimism, curiosity and hope.   4.  Focus on skills for collaboration and innovation These skills are not always easy. They require each leader to understand themselves a particular way. To understand how they listen, the prejudice they bring to listening, the way they are already listening to their own interpretation or ‘story’ before others have even spoken. We all have a kind of ‘listening’ for the world, which is informed by a social and historical narrative that we each live in. We each have a story of who we think we are, what’s permissible, what’s culturally appropriate and what’s not. As a leader (and a human being) your narrative really forms a background to your capacity to identify disruptions as possibilities. An effective leader can put aside their unhelpful listening to ‘listen for what’s possible’. This is truly an art – and one worth cultivating.  Listening to ask great questions that have others in your company connect with what’s emerging and using this as a basis for collectively identifying new possibilities – this is the space of innovation. Imagine a workplace where you and your people felt safe, skilled and empowered to speak up, share, challenge, listen to opinions without provocation, explore, experiment and always find better ways! If you’re interested in developing new skills and practices to build and restore trust, listen, make powerful requests and coach to build capability, please click here to register for our upcoming Accelerator Program, or for more information please contact us via [email protected]

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