Chief executives and entrepreneurs from across business, sport and the not-for-profit sectors have warned about an emerging leadership crisis as old-style leaders fail to communicate with younger workers.
Executive recruiting firm Six Degrees interviewed 40 CEOs and surveyed 1300 respondents and concluded that many leaders performed strongest on traits their teams cared least about, such as work ethic and a track record of success. Leaders ranked poorly on the attributes employees value most, including team building and communication skills. Only 8 per cent of respondents agreed there was a good pipeline of leaders being developed.
“We hear day-in day-out that people leave an organisation not because the salary isn’t right, or the fridge isn’t fully stocked the way they want it, it’s because of the relationship, there’s a disconnect between that individual and their leader,” said Mike Dickson, director of Six Degrees.
“What we expect from our leaders at all levels has changed. Tech disruption, the rising importance of a values-based culture and the difference between Gen X and Millennials means that the leadership styles of yesterday don’t necessarily work today.”
Former CEO of Swisse Wellness, Radek Sali – who recently had to deal with a wages scandal as a major investor in George Calombaris’ hospitality empire and has founded a principle-driven investment group called Light Warrior – told the Melbourne event to launch the research that businesses had to plan for better leadership.
“Corporates haven’t moved fast enough to care about their people, to put their people really first,” he said. “I mean, how many of you have got a business plan in your business, who has got a cultural plan? Who has got a communication plan? I think it needs the same amount of attention as a business plan. It needs to be reviewed, it needs to be work-shopped as seriously as a business plan.”
“It can’t be just a line item in the business plan that we’re gonna look after culture. It’s a whole process in itself. It’s a massive undertaking.”
Do not give this to HR
The CEO of Beyondblue, Georgie Harman, said that the focus on leadership skills had to be driven from the top rather than human resources.
“I say time and time and time again to CEOs, do not give this to HR. I love HR professionals. I used to be in charge of an HR team once myself. But the moment you make this an HR issue it becomes about risk, when it is actually about culture and the whole business.”
Melbourne Football Club CEO Peter Jackson said at AFL football clubs, people are the most important feature of success, which means that great leadership and culture leads to results.
“It’s who you recruit, it’s how you develop them and it’s the environment you create,” he said. “I think the AFL is littered with history of clubs succeeding because of great culture and leadership, and clubs failing because of poor culture and leadership,” he said.
“Where bosses go wrong is that they think people work for salaries but they don’t, they come to work for a myriad of other things and it’s a vehicle for most people to achieve what they want to achieve personally in their personal growth, their knowledge, their personal development, a sense of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, all those sorts of things. That’s why people go to work. That’s why they should go to work, and it should be fun.”
Get over being weak
Preeti Bajaj, vice-president of strategy and transformation at Schneider Electric said leaders demonstrate authenticity by “not standing up between nine and five and pretending you’ve got all the answers”.
“There’s a fine line between admitting you don’t have all the answers and feeling weak and I think we’ve got to get over that. We’ve actually got to embrace the leadership qualities we do have to be able to still solve that problem collectively and collaboratively,” Ms Bajaj said.
Fiona Lang, chief executive officer of BBC Worldwide, said that BBC had started experimenting with two-way mentoring, to tap into the skills that younger staff had.
“The younger generation are skilled in completely different ways so if you are able to tap into that, it is actually helping solve the problem.”
General manager for small business at Australia Post Rebecca Burrows said that being authentic, a great communicator, open with people and mentoring are now expected of leaders. When mentoring millennials, leaders have to deal with raised expectations and build loyalty, rather than demand it.
“I had a coffee with a young woman who was at uni, and she wanted to talk to me about maybe doing an internship with us. At the end of it she said, ‘great, so if you can just lock away that internship for me. And also, could I just shadow you for two weeks?’
“There’s people in the workforce with that sort of expectation now, but even more coming through (for whom) it is a very equal relationship, as it should be. It’s very much about learning from each other and knowing they’ll ask for what they want. So we need to shift our minds around how we embrace those opportunities.”
Source: Australian Financial Review website, 25 September 2017,