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ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program 2021: focus on systems leadership, adaptive leadership and social movements

5 November 2020

News and media


Professor Catherine Althaus and Robin Ryde


ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program (EFP) will return in 2021 and provide senior public sector leaders with an exciting and meaningful program designed to increase their understanding of systems leadership, adaptive leadership and their role in helping governments respond to the post-COVID era.

EFP co-director Professor Catherine Althaus says the EFP, which will shift to a virtual delivery for the first time, will also include a focus on the leadership implications associated with social movements such as Black Lives Matter and the #metoo movement, which will shape society over the coming decades.

The EFP is designed for high performing leaders and senior public sector executives, such as Deputy Chief Executive Officers (CEO), Deputy Director-Generals and Deputy Secretaries, and executives two levels below CEO, Director-General or Secretary.

The three-module program (consisting of two three-day sessions and one two-day session), will combine online sprints and offline reflection, and is delivered by world-recognised academics and high-calibre practitioners. Practitioners will be able to share their personal leadership experiences in a creative and collaborative environment, and apply what they learn as soon as they return to work.

The EFP 2021 includes a mix of teacher-to-participant sessions, participant-led sessions, group work, immersive elements and facilitated panel discussions, as well as opportunities for self-reflection.

Professor Althaus, ANZSOG Deputy Dean (Teaching and Learning), and ANZSOG Chair in Public Service Leadership and Reform, University of New South Wales Canberra, is the co-director of the EFP program along with Robin Ryde, former Chief Executive UK National School of Government, and leadership and organisational development expert.

She said the program focused on developing leadership, management, systems thinking, strategic and personal skills to strengthen participants’ ability to lead high-performing teams that could meet the new challenges of the COVID environment.

“An authentic leader needs to be self-aware and self-critical, leading the self to grow and become wise… and that overflows into how you lead others. Leaders also need to employ systems thinking due to the complexity of the worlds in which policymaking and leadership are exercised. Great leaders have to manage across all elements of systems and identify, leverage and enable the people they need to help them, because they can’t do everything themselves,” she said.

Online delivery brings flexibility

Due to the impact of COVID-19 on travel and indoor group gatherings, EFP 2021 has been revamped for the online environment. Importantly, the 2021 program emphasises the engaging elements of the previous version of the EFP, translating them into the online environment while factoring in participant wellbeing.

“Moving the EFP online will make the experience more flexible and easier to balance with work and family. People will be able to learn at their own time and pace and work to their own schedule and learning style,” Professor Althaus said.

“The challenge was that we wouldn’t be able to provide the same type of immersive cohort experience as the face-to-face version, so instead we’ve worked out ways to achieve that sense of community in a virtual dimension, and to facilitate ways for participants to form new networks online,” Professor Althaus said.

“The benefit is that we will be able to get amazing people from across the world because we are not constrained by the cost of travel. We’ve designed the EFP so that we are ‘reaching through the screen’ to each other and the overall experience will be engaged and lively.”

Professor Althaus said that in the COVID-19 environment public service leaders faced new challenges and would need to build an even greater set of capabilities.

“Public service leaders have this incredible role where they need to be finely attuned to what is going on in the world. They have to be a great manager, and also to know and make sense of what is happening in the world and connect this to policy, delivery and advice.”

She said that public services post-COVID will face competing pressures and could change less than the private sector, simply because there would be a huge amount of inertia and movement back to the old ways of doing things.

“There will be a contradiction for the public sector. They will suffer both from austerity and pressure to act on the economy. They will have to pay attention to microeconomic reform in service provision, to innovate and be careful of resources.

“But there will be a heightened interest in the contribution that public services make to economic growth. Public sector leaders will need to think about industry policy, the collapse in tourism and the massive changes in the economy, and the importance of innovative and growth-oriented policy in this area.”

She said that Australia and New Zealand would occupy a more significant role in global geopolitics, and that public sector leaders need to be attuned to global events beyond the US election to developments in China, India and Japan.

Focus on social movements and social change

A core focus in 2021 will be the analysis of social movements – such as Black Lives Matter and the #metoo movement – and their implications for leadership as well as their effects on the role of government, at a time where uncertainty is leading to greater levels of social tension.

“What is happening in the world is a generational shift. We haven’t seen the potential for civil unrest like this since the 1960s. We are in a historical moment and leaders have to make sense of that moment for themselves and the people they lead,” Professor Althaus said.

“This has been a time when social movements have come to the fore. It is the first time in 50 or 60 years when the divisions of society have come to the surface in such profound ways. The whole social movement area changes political and social expectations and public sector leaders need to understand what that means for them and the communities they serve.

“Not only are these movements significant in their own right, they raise important questions about trust in, and responsiveness of, public institutions, channels of democratic expression such as social media, and generational factors.”

Public sector leaders need to be inclusive and culturally competent to respond to these shifts that are happening in society, Professor Althaus said.

“We need to encourage people to think about these issues both professionally and personally.

“In addition, there will be a greater emphasis on acting ethically and with integrity. We have had a bump in trust in government, but we are now facing a more radical potential decline… so paying attention to ethics and how to integrate it into work is an urgent leadership task.”

Professor Althaus said that three key qualities required by public sector leaders in the current uncertain environment would be: the ability to be flexible, being able to incorporate technology into leadership, and the exercise of humanity.

“The ability to pivot has already been shown in remarkable ways by the public sector, but the need for flexibility will continue and the EFP will give participants theoretical and practical ways to improve in that area,” she said.

“Everyone has had to move themselves into the online and virtual space, and many organisations have grasped this is an opportunity, and not had to be dragged along kicking and screaming. During the EFP we’ll be stretching the virtual leadership model and exercising those skills.

“But there will also be a need for humanity, and the exercise of care and awareness of our physicality. The conversations people are now prepared to have, on ways to take care of each other and to reach out more humanely. I hope we can use that to drive positive change into the future and the EFP will encourage people to think about that.”

The 2021 EFP features three modules, as well as an orientation session and a pre-module check-in session. There are two-week breaks between the three modules (2×3 day sessions and 1×2 day session) to allow time for participants to complete self-reflection work and apply insights into their workplaces throughout the program. The modules will feature short sessions with ample break time to ensure participants are engaged in robust and insightful discussions.


Orientation:  20-22 April 2021

Module 1: Leading Self and Others:  5-7 May 2021

Module 2: Leading the organisation: 25-27 May 2021

Check-in and  looking ahead to Module 3: 15 June 2021

Module 3: Systems leadership: 24-25 June 2021

For a further breakdown of the modules in the brochure and to find out more about the cost of the EFP visit the ANZSOG website.