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Towards Strategic Leadership: self-reflection to drive change

16 August 2021

News and media


Photo of Helen Spencer

Image: Helen Spencer


ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) program has a strong track record of asking leaders reflect to improve their ability to collaborate and see where their organisations fit into the big strategic picture.

The program, led by Professor Paul ‘t Hart and Robbie Macpherson, provides senior public servants with a space to reflect, learn and grow so they can carry out their roles with clarity, wisdom and energy.

Previously delivered face-to-face across a two week period, TSL was moved online for the first time in 2020 as a result of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The online delivery received overwhelmingly positive feedback, maintaining the spirit and tradition of the face-to-face delivery by ensuring a keen focus on personal reflection in the context of the crisis environment.

Helen Spencer, a Reform lead at the Queensland Department of Resources, recently completed the online TSL program. She has a passion for change and transformation, with an interest in data and digital transformation.

“I want government to be able to provide services to the community in the most efficient way, so that we can free up our resources to target those who need direct support,” she said.

Ms Spencer leads projects focussed on large-scale reform across the organisation: “this is not just technology, or human resources, or policy and legislation, it’s about systems thinking and thinking about our role in how we influence the broader picture”.

Ms Spencer said TSL took a far deeper and more comprehensive approach to leadership in government than other leadership courses she had completed.

“There is a deeper consideration of the contemporary research that supports leadership philosophy and reform. This made it easier for me to put in context and appreciate the ‘why’ of strategic leadership, not just the ‘how’.

“We discussed the anthropological behaviour behind reflection and gratitude, so I appreciated the context of this practice, and now try to do it regularly. I found the reflective pieces the most challenging for sure, but I now have a deeper understanding of why that reflection is necessary and I’ve learnt things about myself.”

Natalie Sum (below), Principal Strategy Adviser to the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner, also recently completed the online TSL program.

She leads a small team that provides advice relating to key projects including future ways of flexible working, gender equity and diversity and inclusion.

She says that she chose TSL as a government-specific course that would prepare her for a transition to more senior executive roles.

“The course was not what I fully expected. It gave me theory and concepts for my toolkit but it also encouraged me to self-reflect and engage in what that content meant to me. When you do TSL and really engage with the content while you reflect on your journey, it brings opportunities for real growth.

“It reinforced for me that leadership is not knowing the answer to everything. It’s about building a diverse team of skills, working with people you can trust and giving them the space to shine. Leadership is about setting the tone for innovation and trust in our organisation.”

She said studying online was extremely convenient and made it easier to balance the rest of her priorities.

“Paul and Robbie were both 100 per cent present and open in their time with our cohort. They left nothing unsaid and I appreciated their intellect, vulnerability and honesty,” she said.

Self-awareness and a new approach to work

Ms Spencer said that TSL had shown her that she was “sometimes a little too outcome-oriented…and that some of the skills I’ve got aren’t ones that I list on my CV”.

“I’ve also learnt to understand how other people might approach tasks…and that to facilitate true collaboration, leaders don’t have to provide all the answers.

“If there’s one thing all leaders need to know it’s that it’s OK to be an incomplete leader, we shouldn’t expect our leaders to be the smartest people in the room,” she said.

Ms Spencer said that to drive change leaders needed resistance and adaptability because the volatile environment they worked in had become the new normal.

“TSL helps you to become more creative and have that ‘view from the balcony’ that you get from being above what is going on around you,” she said.

TSL provides an opportunity for participants to bring their own experiences and challenges to the table. Ms Spencer said that she had really connected with some of her cohort and would be able to reach out to them to discuss problems.

“If you are thinking of doing TSL, I would ask what you are looking to achieve in your career because this really isn’t a cookie cutter leadership course. You need to be able to commit to it, and you need to be passionate about reform and making services better, but if that is you then it’s a great experience.”

ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership is a unique program with a focus on reflection, and developing the qualities to be a successful public sector leader, with a focus on the long-term perspective and grasping strategic opportunities for renewal and transformation.

Participants will develop reflective and strategic thinking and discover tools to discern and address the urgent and strategically important tasks, with an emphasis on integrating them into their everyday practices.

Find out more, submit an expression of interest or apply for the program at the Toward Strategic Leadership page. The next TSL delivery begins on 15 September 2021 and applications close on 7 September 2021.

Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP)

A program that challenges senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)

A unique program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.

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