Designing CEOs: How Australia can build leaders

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Are leaders born or made? The Frankenstein option isn’t available yet but in the meantime many believe the performance of manager can be improved, whatever their skill level or natural ability.

Australian strategic leadership firm Bendelta thinks it can go one better. It has studied the psychological, biological and behavioural patterns of some of the world’s most successful people and scoured scientific studies for data on what it takes to make a good leader.

Among those studied are current world chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, Chinese American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Olympic gold medal swimmer Sarah Sjostrom, six-times ironman Trevor Hendy and journalist Peter Greste.

To this mix was added the insights of a global think tank of 25 academics and subject experts.

Contributors included Professor of Strategy and Organisation Studies at Leeds University, Tyron Pitsis, consultant neurosurgeon Dr Ian Weinberg, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Swinburne, Professor Con Stough, leading global expert on social collaboration and negotiation Professor Martin Schweinsberg, and nutrition change agent Rob Rees.

Bendelta, staffed by experts in organisational architecture and leadership development, then created a virtual institute, Potentiology, dedicated to accelerating the performance of executives and organisations.

Analysis of multiple studies shows an average of 30% performance difference between the small proportion of organisations that are excelling in getting the best from their people and that of the average corporation.

“Put simply, Potentiology is the science and art of unlocking human potential,” says Anthony Mitchell, co-founder and chairman of Sydney-based Bendelta.

“Over the past two years, we have refined our 15 years of experience and findings into this trademarked approach.

“We have applied the knowledge and viewpoints of global leaders from multiple disciplines, rigorous research across academic and practical findings in numerous domains, and an unshaking commitment to scientific method, including experimentation and pilots with trailblasing organisations.”

“The single greatest predictor of performance is the extent to which organisations unlock and combine the potential of their people.”

Potentiology focuses on resilience, empathy, agility, decision making, collaboration and creativity.

Patrick Schmidt, CEO of the Iconic, largest online fashion website, says Potentiology describes the ethos that his business has had from the outset.

“The reason that we’ve grown so fast is that we’ve aimed to create the space for people to realise their full potential,” he says.

“We’re operating in an industry where there’s no playbook, which means that we largely write our own rules – and that certainly includes how to reach our potential as we scale to keep up with sometimes unpredictable levels of hypergrowth.

“As CEO, one of my biggest priorities is creating an environment where everyone else can achieve their potential and develop their strengths to a level of mastery.

“Leading one of Australia’s fastest growing businesses, this is amongst the most rewarding aspects of my job — in the last year alone two of our exceptional leaders have moved into positions managing teams of more than 100, up from mere single digits.

“In just over five years The Iconic has grown from just five people to more than 500 incredibly talented experts across a range of specialties from fashion to tech and everything in between.”

Vaughan Paul, vice president of human resources at Optus, says innovation requires a mindset that fosters ideas but also removes the risk of failure.

“Leaders must learn to encourage and create space to generate ideas, but also allocate budget to trial, prototype and most importantly accept failure,” he says.

“The important balance between the technical breadth of the business and the commerciality to drive long-term sustainability requires leaders who are focused on innovation, culture and talent above the development of the technology itself.”

Mitchell at Bendelta says leaders must focus on the long-term despite the turbulent, rapid-paced world we all work in.

“Typically, the most important long-term investment of all is in people — attracting great people, understanding people’s talents and needs, and helping them stretch to their full potential,” he says.

“Ironically, this becomes even more important in times of disruption.

“Great leaders put personal glory, ease and reward at the bottom of their priorities and investment in the future at the top.”

Soul Machines CEO Mark Sagar, the inventor of Baby X, the emotionally intelligence toddler simulation, says there are a lot of parallels between what Bendelta is doing and his work in artificial intelligence.

“Much of what I have found with Baby X and Nadia (another avatar) is applicable to humans and human organisations, if only for the simple reason that where possible we try to base everything on the behaviours and brains of real humans,” he says.

“Why sit on a phone when you can interact directly and without delay with a smart computer. A computer that doesn’t have to start again when an employee leaves; a computer than learns from every single interaction and therefore gets more helpful every day.”

Nadia was developed as an online virtual assistant for the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme.

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