Leadership at work: do Australian leaders have what it takes

30 May 2016

Fuelled by the resources boom, the Australian economy has enjoyed an unprecedented 25 years of economic growth, more than doubling in real terms over that period. But, now, the Australian economy is slowing. Productivity is sluggish, employment growth is weakening, and consumer confidence is faltering. Many economists are now predicting an extended period of slow economic growth and recovery.

Organisations need to adapt and adjust to this unfolding reality, improve productivity and reduce costs. However, this is just one of a number of critical challenges that Australia faces. Slower economic growth globally has intensified competitive pressures. The rate of technological change is accelerating and is having increasingly disruptive consequences. Automation is destroying jobs at a faster pace and is beginning to hollow out middle-skill jobs across sectors as diverse as manufacturing, professional services and financial services. Technological advances are leading to an unprecedented rate of innovation in products and services, creating new sourcesof competitive pressure – as well as enormous potential for future growth, profitability and cost reduction. Technology is spawning a new class of business models, which are disrupting established ways of working and doing business – from Uber in the taxi industry, AirBnB in accommodation services, and the emerging FinTech sector, to the spread of online training in education services and an array of service providers able to offshore increasingly complex work. At the same time, organisations have contended with a seismic shift in the competitive and regulatory environment - from competition policy and consumer protection, to the decentralisation of industrial relations and enterprise bargaining.

These fundamental changes in the way organisations organise and compete will impact Australian workplaces of all shapes and sizes – small and large, private and public, for-profit and not-for-profit, and across industries.

If Australia is to maintain national competitiveness and generate growth and jobs, organisations need to navigate through a phase of increased uncertainty and ambiguity, disruption and change. To survive, organisations need to innovate and adapt, and to develop new capabilities and new sources of growth.

A critical question is whether Australian organisational leaders are ready to meet these new challenges. Or whether the extended period of economic growth driven by the resources boom has made Australian organisational leaders complacent and unprepared for the future? Have Australian organisations invested adequately in their leadership and management capabilities to navigate through these complex and uncertain times? If not, will these various changes have adverse and lasting effects on future growth and prosperity? These questions have informed the surveys developed for this study.

This Centre for Workplace Leadership Study of Australian Leadership is supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Employment.

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