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ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program provides a deeper understanding of leadership

22 March 2023

News and media


Image of ANZSOG Executive Fellow Program (EFP) alumni, Dana McDonald

Since ANZSOG was founded in 2002, thousands of public servants have benefited from our programs and courses. Many have gone on to senior and highly influential positions in public services across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. To celebrate ANZSOG’s 20 years of working with our owner governments to strengthen the quality of public sector leadership in Australia, this series of profiles looks at the achievement of our alumni, why they chose the public sector as a career, their views on how to lead and the importance of having a high-quality values-driven public service. 


In a world where the demands on senior public sector leaders are increasing every year, it is increasingly important for public sector leaders to take time to reflect and invest in their own leadership. 

ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program (EFP) is returning for 2023 and will be delivered in a fully online format, allowing for a greater range of guest presenters and giving participants the chance to work through material at their own pace. 

The EFP gives senior public sector leaders a unique opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of leadership and learn alongside their peers from across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. EFP alumni include more than 200 public sector leaders who have gone on to hold roles as CEOs or Secretaries (equivalents) or Deputies after completing the program. 

The 2023 online program will be co-ordinated by former CEO of the UK National School of Government Robin Ryde – and divided into three modules each focusing on a key leadership theme: Leading the self and others, Leading an Organisation and Systems Leadership. These themes are explored using contemporary issues as a focal point, including the post-COVID-19 world, social movements and civil unrest, as well as preparedness in the face of the global spectre of war. 

Dana McDonald, a group manager at New Zealand Customs Service, was part of the ANZSOG online EFP in 2021 and says that the program was tiring – but well worth it.  

“We got stimulating presenters, a huge quantity of practical information, and the chance to build a network of people at a similar stage in our careers,” he said. 

“There was a lot of content you could dig into for certain areas, and the online format gave you a chance digest the material before the next session, or even to implement it in your work.” 

“You get exposed to a lot of tools, models, and ideas. You can simply give them a once-over lightly or get into the detail – depending on your needs at the time and as your needs change when you reflect back on the work.” 

Mr McDonald said that before he undertook the EFP he had reached a point in his career where he felt he needed professional development to fill gaps in his skills. 

“I’d moved into a different role as a Tier 3, where I report to a Deputy Chief Executive. It was a step up and I needed a leadership upgrade. I wanted to find out how I needed to be thinking, and what tools I needed to make that step up,” he said. 

“I was looking at professional development options and based on all the options that were on the market and what I needed, I thought the EFP was ideally suited to me. I had previously completed the Towards Strategic Leadership program with ANZSOG and got a lot out of it.” 

He said that sessions from Harvard Kennedy School leadership expert Dana Born, who focused on authentic leadership, and Professor Mark Moore on the concept of public value had been extremely valuable, as had discussion of systems thinking which was relevant to work across agencies. 

“I found Robin Ryde really good. One of the things he said that really resonated with me was, ‘your self is the instrument of your leadership’.”   

“While other professions have tools they use to get the job done – such as a chef’s knife or a surgeon’s scalpel, as a leader it’s you that is the instrument.  To be the best leader you can be, you need to focus on you. While that sounds simple, there is a lot to unpack and to include in your own leadership practice.” 

Mr Ryde said that self-knowledge and self-mastery are the tools of good leadership. 

“Leaders need to know what their self is capable of, what it does when it is under pressure, what are its blind spots, what depletes and what restores its energy. For example, if you understand you are the kind of leader who instinctively leaps in to solve problems, you may want to think about waiting,” he said. 

“It is also important to understand what it is that you uniquely bring to leadership and remember that the things leaders do cast a long shadow.” 

The EFP program focuses on modes of leadership that move away from ‘command and control’ and emphasise leadership that is done with and through others, and skills that bring out cooperation and collaboration. 

The program encourages participants to share their personal leadership experiences in a creative and collaborative environment, and gives them tools and ideas to apply when they return to work, as well as opportunities for self-reflection.  

Participants learn from a cast of renowned academics and senior public sector practitioners from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world, in a program designed to build a greater understanding of themselves and the environment they work in, and to help them take the next step in their career. 

Guest presenters in the 2023 online EFP include Harvard Kennedy School’s Professor Dana Born, who will focus on Authentic Leadership; Dr Richard Tedeschi an expert on post-traumatic growth and resilience through crises; and Sam Johnson, a New Zealand-based social entrepreneur who is a leader in developing models of community that build resilience through volunteering and local action, and who will lead a session on social movements. 

Other presenters will look at Change and the Organisation, Indigenous Leadership, Leadership in the Context of Complexity, and Systems Thinking in the context of Global War. 

Participants are challenged to produce their own TED talks – giving them a chance to deepen their understanding of aspects of the program and share aspects of the program that elevated or motivated them. 

Mr McDonald said that doing the EFP had given him more confidence, as well as some tools and language that he can use in his role. 

“I also feel I’ve got permission to articulate some of the leadership skills to my own leadership team, and share those ideas with them because it’s tested stuff that works in the real world.” 

Applications for the 2023 online Executive Fellows Program are now open. For more information about the program, click here or email programs_team@anzsog.edu.au. 

The EFP will commence with an orientation session on 20 April 2023 (3 hours), followed by three intensive three-day modules held in May, June and July