professional development

Five ideas to take on your holiday break

Kath Walters /

Leaders have active minds. We know you will be pondering the coming year at some moments during time spent relaxing with family and friends.  Here’s some food for thought.

1. Raise the standard of public debate

A federal election year will be a year of public debate. Business leaders have a chance to elevate it, says Elizabeth Proust, a director of funds management company, Perpetual.

“Next year will be another difficult one for Australia,” says Proust.  “The federal election is likely to dominate the news and our thinking.  We need to elevate the level of debate about the issues facing the nation and our region above the often puerile matters currently passing for debate.”

Proust would like to see the debate shift to substantial public and business issues. “I would like to play a role in raising that level so that, as a business leader, I can contribute to issues such as infrastructure, government finances and broader financial questions.”

2. A participatory approach to the corporate vision

It is easy to involve staff in developing a corporate vision, and risky not to do so (although it is a common mistake).

Social media and communications specialist, Catriona Pollard, says the agency-wide processes of reflection and planning are powerful and ongoing, rather than an annual event. “At CP Communications, we make time for reflection for each of our clients and our business at the beginning of every month. We talk through the successes and challenges we had. We find this a really powerful exercise.”

There is an annual process, involving a half-day for the whole agency. “We create a vision board for the year and put it in a prominent place in our office. We dedicate half a day, to write down to talk about what is important to us and the agency, and then we create the vision board using images. Every day we look at it and we can see what we plan on achieving, and how that might make us feel. As a creative agency, this is such a wonderful part of our culture.”

3. Staying ahead as diversity gathers momentum

There is a long line-up of powerful men and women who are advocating for gender diversity, and more organisations are providing guidance and training to overcome the under-representation of women in C-suite and around the board table.

Leading companies are at the forefront, not hanging back, and it will not be long before the laggards are caught in the spotlight of public scrutiny, and will be scrambling to catch up. Director, Carol Schwartz, says: “Of course my leadership resolution for the new year is to be even more strident around creating equal opportunity for women to access leadership roles in the corporate world.”

Leading companies are scouring a wide range of networks, news sources and their own organisations to identify women for leadership roles now and in the future. The Australian Institute of Company Directors, for example, has just awarded 70 scholarships for women to undertake directorship training courses.

4. Getting more from your people

In times of uncertainty, when avoiding redundancies is a priority for cash-strapped leaders, the idea of training and development can seem like an absurdity. The evidence is mounting for another point of view. “We have traditionally not been good at supporting and developing our people and it has cost us dearly in business performance,” the CEO of a global company recently commented to Roma Gaster, a director of The Leadership Circle, Asia Pacific.

Leaders cannot afford to view investment in training as a risk, Gaster says. “I don’t get any benefit if I don’t invest. Sure, I have still got the money in my bank account, but my competitive advantage is going down the tube.”

Leaders can do a lot to develop their people by improving their own skills and capabilities, says Gaster, and by overcoming their fears and doubts to focus on achievement.

“When I focus on achieving, I focus on what really matters to me as leader, and then ask, how does that connect with what matter with organisation I am in, and everyone associated with the organisation.”

“If I engage people in conversations so they understand how they can make a valuable contribution to the purpose and vision of the business, then they can work in teams to achieve that. They can mentor and develop them and get collaboration.”

On the flipside, Gaster says managers must be braver about providing feedback on poor performance. “Authenticity is about engaging in courageous conversations. There is integrity in them, because we help people become more effective in their performance. Traditionally, we talk about managing poor performance. If we don’t have these conversations, what are we doing is failing these people. In an organisation lead consciously, we are asking, how can we help them get back on track.”

5. Social media boom and bust

Most leaders remember the chaotic years of the dotcom boom and bust, as the society and business community attempted to work out how to use the internet for commercial purposes. Social media is booming, and the role it will play in business – sales, customer service, sanctions, recruitment and leadership – is still very unclear.

Needless to say, leaders are feeling cautious. Social media mistakes are highly public. On the upside, there is a growing body of advice and research, and the early movers have forged a path with some silly and clever moves.

Is it time to engage – or engage more fully – with social media? I suspect that when the chair of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, is on Twitter, that question is answered.

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