Australia could face a leadership crisis if executives don’t adapt to modern business

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC/getty Images

Australia could be facing a leadership crisis.

The last decade has seen many industries enter a period of increasingly rapid change. Growing complexity of environments, volatility, interconnectedness and ambiguity are the new norm for business.

Recent research by LinkedIn, and reported in Business Insider Australia, suggests that it is because of the complexity of modern leadership roles that Australian managers don’t have what it takes to be leaders.

Compounding this issue is the plan to abolish the 457 visa scheme. This means that if an Australian company wants to employ a CEO from overseas, they can’t be aged over 45.

Now, more than ever, Australian businesses need to step up to the leadership challenge.

Leadership matters. It influences employee attitudes and behaviours. Positive attitudes and behaviours translate into greater employee creativity and productivity.

Yet, recruiters are having a hard time finding candidates with the requisite soft skills and leadership competencies.

There is a gap in the leadership talent pipeline. Despite everyone’s best efforts – all those leadership training courses and seminars, university degrees and MBAs.

Leaders are struggling to crack the leadership code because the traditional leadership development approaches are failing them. What’s missing is that the fundamental leadership skills now needed are ones that you’re more likely to learn in a counselling skills course than an MBA. But they need to be adapted to the business context.

These skills don’t come naturally or easily (see Seth Godin on empathy). But they are skills that can be learned.

Here are three skills that belong in a leaders toolkit:

Listening for control

There’s this illusion that if you’re the one doing the talking then you’re the one in control. It’s the opposite. The more you’re listening, the more power and control you have.

It’s not any type of listening. It means learning to ask better questions. Then listening for understanding. Listening for the logic behind the argument. Listening for the hidden agendas. Then you need to decide what to do with what you now know. Without that knowledge, you’ll be unarmed and unprepared.

Setting boundaries for your sanity

Time and relational boundaries are both important for leadership.

A key way to manage your time is to set your boundaries. That includes knowing what you will say no to – saving yourself both time and heartache because you won’t be agonizing over decisions. And then you need to learn how to say no to your boss, stay in the good books, and still be in line for that promotion.

There are also relational boundaries to navigate. There’s a difference between being friends and friendly. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. But friendly is a minimum because there’s a price for incivility at work. It is also important to understand that relational boundaries change. Relationships don’t stand still. A one-time friend can become a foe in different circumstances. It’s a harsh reality that you may need to face and navigate, but it’s better than being naive.

The more you can accept and contain difficult feelings rather than employ defense mechanisms to shield yourself from them, the better off you will be.

Lisa (not her real name), a current member of Cracking the Leadership Code mastermind, said it’s when she recognized that her friend was now her foe at work that she was able to sleep at night. It wasn’t pleasant, but the awareness opened up her options for moving forward and enabled her to make decisions without being naïve.

Empathy for influence

Influence starts when the other person knows that you understand him or her. This is empathy. It doesn’t mean you agree with them or that you’ll give them what they want. But don’t attempt to be efficient with your time and make a genuine effort to understand their perspective.

An essential part of showing empathy is to correctly label emotions, as best you can. If you’re with someone who feels annoyed and you say, “it looks like you’re angry”, then you’ll lose him or her.

It’s important for empathy to first get the basic emotion right like anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Most of us get that right. It’s a bit trickier to correctly identify the intensity. On the angry spectrum, it could be frustrated, annoyed, angry, rage and fury.

All these skills are easy to understand. They are not easy to do. Still, the leaders who master these skills are the ones who will be filling that gap in the leadership pipeline.

Dr Michelle Pizer is an award winning organisational and counselling psychologist, and experienced line manager now working as an executive coach. For over 30 years she has worked with high potential and successful leaders to master the art of being bossy and improve their careers, personal lives and workplaces.