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Leadership development expert Suzi Finkelstein joins ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program

24 August 2023

News and media


Image of Executive Fellows Program facilitator Suzi Finkelstein

Leadership development expert Suzi Finkelstein has joined ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program (EFP) as co-director alongside former CEO of the UK National School of Government Robin Ryde.

Ms Finkelstein is a highly accomplished CEO and Executive Director with over 20 years of experience in public and private sector leadership development, specialising in inclusive leadership. She is currently head of Suzi Finkelstein Advisory and is the former head of the Australian School of Applied Management and Women & Leadership Australia.

She said that the public sector is in a time of change and that its need to make space for reflection and innovation, and leaders need to focus on inclusivity, psychological safety and creating a good culture to be effective.

Ms Finkelstein said that she was attracted to the opportunity to lead the EFP because it covered the three levels required to create timely and impactful leadership, and focused on understanding the self as well as the system leaders were in.

“The work I’ve done over the years shows that if you don’t start with understanding self, and who you are as a leader, you are very limited in your leadership capability and your ability to do that transformational leadership,” she said.

“I’ve coached hundreds of people in the public sector over the last ten years and I’ve seen a real shift, and a really encouraging shift, in terms of understanding that leadership is not just about being a subject matter expert.

“There is a real focus on understanding who you are as a leader and on people management, focusing on team functionality, creating psychological safety, and really taking time to understand where people are and what they need.”

ANZSOG’s EFP offers a dynamic and interactive learning experience where participants learn from the course co-ordinators, their peers, and guest presenters including renowned academics and senior public sector practitioners from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world.

The EFP challenges senior public sector executives to develop new leadership perspectives in a highly interactive setting while exploring contemporary issues, such as the post-COVID environment, social movements, civil unrest, and preparedness amidst the global spectre of war.

The 2023 program will be a mix of online an in-person sessions, with intensives to be held in Sydney and Canberra.

Ms Finkelstein’s academic studies and ongoing research have helped inform a rigorous, evidence-based approach to her work and an understanding of how people can change and grow, as well as importance of diversity and inclusion in building successful organisations.

She said that being CEO of the global leadership development company WLA during the pandemic had demonstrated to her the value of creating and communicating a ‘future focus’ even during unpredictable times.

“Creating a vision, and ensuring it was translated and communicated in all different forms and forums was a challenge. I learnt that although clarity was key – that wasn’t enough because I needed to create ownership, and ultimately accountability, for our commitments on these milestones,” she said.

She said that the public sector had been able to use the pandemic to work differently and to experiment with new ideas, and that progress needed to continue.

“One of the things that COVID-19 has taught the public sector is that we can lead in a different environment and be focused more on meeting people’s needs and bringing them together, as well as trusting people with more autonomy,” she said.

“The public sector has to be able to react, but it also needs to be able to step back and ask has our vision and has our focus changed?”

“I still think that, compared to the private sector, it can be seen as a bit of a luxury to have space for blue sky thinking, or to step back, challenge assumptions and look at how we can improve or where we need to go. It takes courage for a leader to hold that space and say this is an important part of what we do.”

Creating diverse and inclusive teams

Ms Finkelstein said that her work in diversity and inclusion had given her an understanding of the barriers to creating inclusive organisations.

“Creating an inclusive environment is hard work, because our brains are wired to go with homogeneity and sameness and we are attracted to people who think like us or act like us,” she said.

“You always hear ‘we need to hire people who are a culture fit’ – when you have a diverse and inclusive work team you actually don’t have ‘culture fit’ you have ‘culture add’.

“Diversity is one thing – the recruiting and making sure we have diverse teams. The hard work is around inclusion – making sure everybody feels that they can show up, speak up and ask questions being who they are – and that takes more skill and thought to achieve.”

“When we are in the public sector we want our teams to resemble the communities that we lead, and when we get that right we can gain from their insights and from their challenges because they haven’t come through the same perspective we have.”

She said that when it came to encouraging female leadership, Australia had dropped down the World Economic Forum’s gender gap table from 15th to 26th in recent years, while New Zealand was currently in 4th.

“When we look at how to encourage and promote female leadership, it’s an adaptive challenge, because it’s not a tick the box or a quick fix. The first thing we need to look at is how we recruit, then the career journey and support for everybody, and ensuring that everybody has opportunities.

“I think we do need to look at targets for female leadership because we need to have that visibility, and accountability about what we’re achieving, and because what gets measured gets managed. It always needs to be based on merit, but we need to ensure that we have a more equitable playing field in terms of who is being considered and why.”

Preparing EFP participants for future challenges

Ms Finkelstein said that the EFP would give participants a space for reflection and a chance to think more deeply about the challenges they faced.

“The program is not just about leadership frameworks and evidence-based models. Participants need to bring in their own challenges and insights, and work through opportunities for change in their real world using what they have learnt through the program.”

“We will create times where people come together and have learning huddles, to look at how they are integrating the learning. That’s so you don’t leave at the end of two weeks with this heap of knowledge wondering what you are going to do with it.

“We want to make the learning really sticky for our participants, so when they leave they have some clear insights as to what it looks like in terms of application.”

“The future challenge for the public service is to ensure we have a public service which is a reflection of our community, one that is visionary, but still also reactive enough to attend to what our communities need. Leaders need to keep people focused on the vision when there is a lot of noise and distraction.”

“The real challenge is how you juggle that with resources, because many of the public sector leaders that I work with are really challenged by trying to lead with less.”

“The higher you go as a leader the more important it becomes to surround yourself with subject matter experts who are at a higher level than you are. Your role is to facilitate the learning and build great teams that can achieve rather than think you have all the answers.

“We used to think the leader had to be crystal clear on the vision, and that it was their vision for others to follow. Now we understand that the role of a leader is to be curious and to challenge and to create that space where you’ve got that real buy in, engagement and accountability from everyone, and where people are able to question and engage.

She said the one piece of advice she would give to leaders was to ‘trust yourself’.

“You are in a leadership position because others have seen leadership potential in you. Often what I see is the higher you get the more you doubt yourself and the more pressure you put on yourself, often unnecessarily.

“Knowing yourself is really important. Really invest in understanding who you are, what your triggers are, where you go to when you are stressed.

“If we can know ourselves and trust ourselves, then we can show up and be the authentic leaders we need to be.”

ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program is a highly respected program designed exclusively for senior public sector executives. It provides you with a unique opportunity to develop your ability to lead and learn alongside your peers from across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

The second iteration of the EFP for 2023 will include online and in-person sessions and will bring participants together for intensives in both Canberra and Sydney.

If you are interested in more information about the EFP, then register here for the upcoming online information session to be held on 6 September.