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TSL Express gives an intensive grounding in self-knowledge and leadership

9 July 2024

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Public sector leaders need to know how to reflect, think strategically and understand human psychology to shape teams that can tackle complex challenges.  

ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership Express (TSL Express) program is a condensed, intensive version of the popular TSL Program – presented by experienced facilitators Robbie Macpherson and Jill Charker – which offers a mix of practical approaches and contemporary leadership theory. 

TSL Express will be delivered in three online sessions plus a four-day intensive in Sydney starting on 22 August. Participants will leave the program with a better ability to identify the strategically important tasks among the noise of day-to-day work, and a boost in confidence and self-knowledge. 

Mr. Macpherson said that TSL Express is a program based on the idea that leaders need to build time for reflection into their daily work. 

“We need to challenge this idea that sometimes it’s a bit indulgent to reflect. I think it’s critical in the leadership work. And almost paradoxically, the busier we are and the higher the demand, the more necessary it is,” he said. 

“Reflection is critical for two primary reasons: the risks and the opportunities. If we don’t do it, there’s an enormous risk that we get consumed by the operational urgency of day-to-day organisational life. That means we lose perspective, we start making flawed decisions, we don’t challenge the assumptions we are making, we risk burnout, fatigue, and cognitive overload.  

“And secondly, the opportunities that come when we do it. It gives us clarity, it gives us perspective, it allows us to think clearly about the context we’re working in, the challenges we face, to think and diagnose these issues with a much clearer mind.”  

Ms Charker said that leaders needed to build and maintain self-awareness of their behaviours and choices because sometimes leadership practices that worked well in the past could become less effective over time. 

“Sometimes as public servants, we can become habituated to behaving in certain ways without taking the chance to consciously step back and think about what we’re doing. TSL Express gives the chance for us to reflect and take stock, in a safe environment but also with the stimulation and structure offered through what is covered in the program and how it is run,” she said. 

TSL is a highly interactive program where participants bring challenges from their own work to be analysed by the group. 

Ms Charker said that TSL Express was not a classic “chalk and talk” program – but one designed for public servants who are already practitioners in their particular role or area of expertise. 

“There tends to be a relationship between how much participants put in and how much they get out of the program, because the program is designed around participants’ actual experiences, reflections and current challenges,” she said. 

“We also create space for participants to test perspectives with each other, and we find that the connections and input shared among participants is consistently reported as being a valuable part of the program. Often, participants find that issues or concerns that are on their minds are not unique, and that they discover colleagues in the program who are wrestling with similar issues and challenges.” 

Mr Macpherson said that TSL was a ‘practical and pragmatic experience where the theory informed the practice’. 

“We ask that people bring in the complex, current, live leadership challenges that they are in the midst of and work with their fellow participants to analyse and diagnose those challenges using the contemporary theories, language and frameworks that we offer to help participants navigate the territory they find themselves in.” 

Understanding how psychology shapes leadership

The TSL Express program looks at psychological elements of human behaviour that are highly relevant to public sector leadership because all organisations and teams are made up of complex human beings. 

“If we are leading people, we need to be able to consistently create an environment where team members can learn together, support each other, and deliver outcomes effectively. And we can only do that if we start by understanding ourselves, and understanding those around us,” Ms Charker said. 

“If we want to get the best out of the people we work with, or the people in other agencies or other stakeholders, and the best out of ourselves, I don’t think we can afford not to look at the psychological element,” Mr Macpherson said. 

“The more understanding we have about how human beings act and why, that gives us incredible insights and benefits of how we can avoid unnecessary conflict, get agreement and build trust, and avoid what we can call some of this ‘shadow side’ of human behaviour.  

A growing part of contemporary public sector leaderships is dealing with change, and TSL looks at how leaders can create an environment that allows people to thrive in times of change. 

“Many of the problems that we face as leaders, and will continue to face, do not have textbook or easy “answers”.  These problems are often hard to define precisely and require us to experiment and learn along the way, as we navigate a pathway forward,” Ms Charker said. 

“These problems often involve working across boundaries and across multiple parts of a system, and increasingly involve constructive collaboration. Leaders have a crucial role to play in helping their teams collectively learn, in creating a psychologically safe environment, and in actively managing the level of challenge a team faces so that they can do their best work, and where collaboration can yield fruit.” 

She said she wanted TSL Express participants to return to their day jobs with ‘increased self-awareness of their own leadership practices, the ability to apply frameworks and tools to help them systematically reflect and having made connections with a few other trusted participants whom they can reach out to for input and support along their leadership journey into the future’. 

Mr Macpherson warned that the high levels of public scrutiny and accountability, which were required for public sector work, could stifle innovation and lead to a lot of fear-driven and compliant behaviour. 

“I’m a great believer, especially for career public servants, in trying to have a break from public service and get in and work in another sector for a period of time. People will come back with new skills, new perspectives, a deeper understanding,” he said. 

Mr Macpherson said that he wanted TSL Express participants to leave the program able to act and lead with more clarity, purpose, and confidence, and to develop a healthier risk appetite. 

“When we are exercising leadership, I would argue almost by definition we are taking some level of risk. If we’re not, we’re doing normal management, and normal management is insufficient to tackle a lot of the complex challenges we’re facing. So, we will take risks, healthy risks, when we are intentional, when we’re purposeful, when we’re confident.” 

For more information about TSL Express, visit the ANZSOG Website. The program runs from 22 August to 3 October and applications are now open.