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Teaching strategic leadership skills

4 October 2017

News and media


The most effective leaders have a defined sense of purpose, a strong sense of self and the ability to discern and address not only the urgent but the strategically important tasks.

Across the complex, fast-changing environment of the modern public sector effective leaders are increasingly important. Leadership ability is sometimes seen as something innate, but ANZSOG’s Professor Paul ‘t Hart, co-director of the Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) program, says that it is a mindset which can be taught and improved.

From October 30 – 3 November the 40 participants in ANZSOG’s TSL course will undertake the second week-long module of the intensive program working together to enrich their leadership skills.

The program focuses on helping public sector managers to better understand their leadership style, their role within their organisation and the wider public service environment.

Strategic habits for everyday practices

Professor ‘t Hart says that the course is consciously about helping participants develop habits of reflection and strategic thinking, and then integrate these habits into their everyday practices.

“These are leaders who are supposed to be ahead of the game, think long term, reframe problems and question the set ways of an organisation or a program, in ways that middle management don’t always get the opportunity for,” he said.

“So the key idea of the program is to get people from a state of running around and doing things, solving problems, into a state where they are giving themselves permission to reflect on what they are doing and have done, and open themselves up to feedback from colleagues.

“This is not a course where participants are continually held in the role of student. We are much less prescriptive and much more reflective.”

Professor ‘t Hart said the course is designed to reveal the potential strengths as well as the endemic roadblocks within participants themselves and within the systems they inhabit.

 “The core element is to step into a reflective zone which, from the years that we’ve taught it, can become a place where learning can happen that cannot take place in either the work context of day-to-day pressure or a conventional classroom setting. This is a deeper form of learning.”

TSL participants are selected from a broad pool of applicants, with ANZSOG looking for senior people who have recently moved, or are about to move, into a more strategic leadership role within government or the public sector at large. Candidates are reviewed by a selection committee, which assesses each applicant’s level and experience and, where possible, seeks a balance of jurisdictions and agencies.

The result is a diverse group who share a common language and commitment to public service, who can inspire each other and generate a comprehensive discussion of leadership issues.

Leadership as an activity

TSL has a strong international flavour, with Professor ‘t Hart travelling from Holland to co-direct the course. His fellow co-director Robbie MacPherson, brings a more comparative perspective from his twenty years of extensive leadership development and coaching work across community, business and public sectors to the table. Mr MacPherson is Managing Director of Adaptable Leadership and Principal at international consultant Reos Partners.

Mr MacPherson says the course sees leadership as an activity, rather than as a position.

“We explore values, purpose, and what allows people to take effective action, and also what gets in the way of effective action. We unashamedly get into the more personal development side: we believe that it’s critical to people being able to take effective action,” he said.

The 2017 course consists of two residential modules. The first (held in June) explored the triangle of self, role and system within which leadership takes place. This gave participants a chance to examine and challenge their assumptions about themselves.

The second module will encourage participants to engage with change and to increase the adaptive capacity of systems. This module uses a Live Case Study – which Professor ‘t Hart says is based around a real life social issue, such as family violence, where progress is hard to achieve.

“We organise a whole series of encounters for our participants, with people who work in that area – they could be service delivery, frontline staff, NGOs or policy people, so we can give them a whole of system view. You can’t make it anymore real in a course environment than that,” Professor ‘t Hart said.

The TSL program is one of ANZSOG’s flagship courses, and is always oversubscribed. Applications are now open for the 2018 TSL program. Participants will not only share a unique experience, which will build their leadership capacity and understanding of how to influence situations, but will also provide them with a valuable network of fellow leaders.