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Interview discussion: the qualities of a great leader



Editor's Choice | Expert | Featured | General | Leadership Advice | Managing | Opinion

By Loren Webb

Ben Foote, CEO of the Australian Institute of Management, shared his insights into the skills and strategies on upskilling and staying relevant in an ever-evolving workforce in an exclusive interview with Dynamic Business.

As automation technologies take over more routine, people at work will spend over 60 percent more time using technological skills and over 40 percent more time using social and emotional skills*.

This will result in a shift in the demand for skills across the economy, requiring everyone to take responsibility in upskilling and retraining to stay relevant in an ever-evolving workforce. It’s important for leaders to have a growth mindset at this time, in order to not only survive, but to thrive.


DB: Why do you think this in an important topic for current leaders to consider?

“There is a change of pace coming across all industries that is influenced by the fact that technology is becoming smart and faster, and it is disrupting the way we work.

“Countries, teams and individuals have to decide how to adapt and change. They have to make the change positive or slow down the change actively.

“Slowing change feels good in the short term, such as by putting tariffs or punishments on change, but it’s not good for the long term.”

DB: What are the pros and cons of adapting?  

“There are lots of examples of businesses and countries trying to slow down globalisation at the moment. Countries can chose not to invest in technology and training, for example.

“The problem of not changing is that everyone becomes less relevant and then there is a gap between environments – for example, when someone stops taking steps to continue their learning, then there are less options for them on the job market.

“Leaders have to ask themselves ““am I going to adapt or protect?”” Right now, you can either disrupt or be disrupted.

“Larger companies will and are finding this harder, so a lot are having to go through downsizing and big structural changes.

“Change is inevitable. You can either make it positive or negative. An example of embracing change would be car companies that started using batteries and renewables early. This has been lead by Tesla, for example, and they’ve seen massive gains. Any organisation that embraces and is using renewables, automation and AI.”

DB: Who, in your opinion, is leading the way towards better change?

“There’s a number of leaders demonstrating what it is to have a growth mindset. Well-known leaders like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are the kind of people who are thinking beyond what the customer wants today. They’re thinking about what they want tomorrow and in the further future.

“Not everyone has the ability to predict that or to be that confident in leadership. But everyone can be open, though. Open to change and to develop and to ask – ““how can we do things better?””

“Those skills are critical as a leader, and if you don’t have them you aren’t going to be operating at full capability.”

DB: What are the qualities of the leaders who have a growth mindset?

“In such a changing time, most people are looking for authenticity and trust in leaders now. In this level of uncertainty, people feel vulnerable and they aren’t looking for innovators; they want a leader that they can simply trust to do the right thing. They want a leader that does what they say they’re going to do and that has the best interests of the company in mind. Ultimately, what else is there than trust?

“Really old values of leadership are coming to the forefront as security in the working environment is crucial.

“As well as this, people are looking for good communication. If people don’t know where they stand and are second guessing things, they feel like they can’t impact the company because they are unaware of what the situation really is.

“When people talk about the generational gap in this context, it’s kind of irrelevant. Millennial talk isn’t useful. They are talked about because they want to be heard, they want to get somewhere very quickly career-wise, and in a lot of ways they are in a better position to have a day about customers. If they give good insights then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get somewhere quick!”

DB: What are the biggest reasons why leaders may not have a growth mindset?

“Being a good leader is challenging. I’m not sure if that’s the right question though, as it’s not that the leaders aren’t doing it… but in order to do a good job they need to:

  • Understand oneself
  • Have emotional intelligence
  • Have good soft skills
  • Connect people
  • Create trust, communication and culture
  • Innovate
  • Be on an individual journey

“It’s not about finance or strategy anymore. It is now so much different to a decade ago where leaders came from finance. Leaders now come from marketing or they are product people who are closer to the customer first, and they have really good communication and soft skills.”

* McKinsey & Company March 2019 – Australia’s automation opportunity report