ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) has always been a unique program tailored to preparing leaders for the exceptional challenges facing the public sector today.
When COVID-19 turned the world upside down, TSL coordinators, Professor Paul ‘t Hart and Robbie Macpherson, were able not just to quickly move the program online, but to redesign it to focus on the COVID-19 environment. The result - TSL: In a time of prolonged crisis - received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants and maintained the spirit and tradition of the face-to-face delivery, with a keen focus on personal reflection in the context of the crisis environment.
The 2021 Towards Strategic Leadership program will again be delivered online across eight weekly sessions in May and June, and aims to ensure participants walk away with a renewed strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the capacity to reflect, collaborate, lead and learn continuously.
It will retain some of its focus on leading during a crisis, and the two-way nature of TSL means that participants are able to bring real problems from their work to be discussed by the cohort.
Louise Peters, Executive Director (a/g) of Engagement at the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman, was one of the participants in the 2020 TSL program, and says that the entirely virtual course was a fantastic and empowering experience, that had helped her rethink and improve how she acted as a leader.
“TSL was the first professional development course I’d done for a long time and I enjoyed getting back into learning again. I left the sessions feeling energised,” Ms Peters said.
“The thing that surprised me was how smoothly it worked, but it still had that ability to create relationships and that sense of connections. The sessions were really engaging and didn’t feel like spending four hours in a zoom call. People were sharing their experiences, and there were opportunities to talk in depth in breakout sessions.”
“I’ve got three kids at home and being able to do it on a weekly schedule was easier than taking two weeks to do a face-to-face course. Doing it in weekly sessions meant I had more time to digest what was discussed, do readings and think about how to integrate what I learnt into my daily work.”
Ms Peters worked as a lawyer in private practice before joining the public service.
“I found industrial relations and law fascinating but I wanted to work in the public sector as a chance to do something less adversarial, which could support all participants and was a better way of supporting the public as a whole.”
During 2020 she was working at an acting Executive Director level within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman and wanted to do some personal development, with an eye to developing her capabilities at the senior executive level.
She said that TSL appealed because of its focus on preparing participants for senior leadership, and it was so current with its focus on the COVID crisis.
She said that TSL’s focus on understanding herself and her leadership had proved invaluable.
“It’s important to focus on the self because it is an important part of doing the job well. Part of the course was about identifying the subconscious biases and assumptions I go into a situation with, or ways that I behave, so that I am able to account for those.”
“I also learned the importance of thinking about my role, rather than myself, and asking ‘what does the organisation need from my role?’, not from me. I found this an empowering idea and I came out with a lot more confidence.”
“You are also taught to step back and to move ‘from the dancefloor to the balcony’ and find out what is going on at a bigger level. We know we are meant to do this as leaders, but it can be difficult to prioritise the space and time. I am now better at checking what my branch is doing and how it fits in with the overall work of the agency and broader public service.
She said that the course’s focus on crisis leadership, and its use of real-world examples – both from the presenters and fellow participants – was a valuable part of the learning.
“The key thing I took away was awareness of my role as a leader and that, even when I am surrounded by other people with more experience, I still need to embrace that role. I am a leader and I have to think and act as a leader.”
“We covered a lot of the issues around organisations having to make decisions and act quickly in a crisis, and the dangers of falling back on old assumptions. Other participants had a lot of examples of what they were doing in response to COVID-19”
She said the course involved working in small groups for things like the ‘Leadership Challenge’ and this meant she had built up a network of people she wouldn’t hesitate to contact for professional advice or to connect with other agencies or departments.
Ms Peters said she would not hesitate to recommend the course to anyone who wanted to prepare for a leadership position.
“If you get the chance: do it and do it now,” she said.
The 2021 Towards Strategic Leadership program begins with an orientation session on 27 April and runs through until 22 June. Applications are now open