To abandon vaccination targets is to abandon the mantle of leadership


Peter Gahan, The University of Melbourne and Jesse E. Olsen, The University of MelbourneThe Australian government has abandoned its ambitious targets to have the adult population vaccinated by the end of October. It has, in fact, abandoned having any target.

We all sometimes find ourselves in tough positions and just want to call it a day. But this decision is not what we should expect from the nation’s leaders when so much is at stake. It also goes against decades of research and evidence on the importance of goal-setting.

In January Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plan was to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, and the entire adult population by the end of October. At the start of April, however, the actual number was less than 842,000. (As of April 15 the number was just over 1.4 million doses.)

Then, on April 11, in a video posted to his Facebook page at 11:35pm, Morrison announced there would be no more targets. “We are just getting on with it,” he said.

But without any target, what is the “it” we should be “getting on with”?


Australia's vaccination score card as of April 4 2021.
Australia’s vaccination score card as of April 4 2021. Don’t expect to see any more of these.
Australian Government/Department of Health, CC BY-SA

Imagine if at your next work meeting the boss echoed the prime minister’s words that “one of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules” and said something like:

This quarter, rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro, we are just getting on with it.

Will these words inspire your team to succeed?

According to leadership research, good management necessarily entails influencing others to achieve goals or objectives. This is a point made even in introductory undergraduate management textbooks.

To abandon goals or targets is, by definition, to abandon the mantle of leadership.




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When goals work

Study after study has demonstrated why setting ambitious targets is important for virtually any activity — from turning a couch potato into a marathon runner, to putting an astronaut on the Moon, to building a driverless car.

Of course, just setting an ambitious goal is not enough. Done poorly, they can be discouraging and undermine performance, and even lead people to behave unethically. To work, people and organisations need to have the capabilities and resources to address unexpected twists and turns, as well as strategy to manage risks and overcome any barriers that crop up.

But so long as goals are set with these things in mind, they help achieve results, driving creativity, innovation and performance.

We already see evidence of this in COVID vaccinations overseas.

The US government’s Operation Warp Speed, the private-public partnership to develop and distribute multiple vaccines in record time, started with this goal:

to deliver tens of millions of doses of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine — with demonstrated safety and efficacy, and approved or authorised by the US Food and Drug administration for use in the US population by the end of 2020, and to have as many as 300 million doses deployed by mid-2021.

The goal was both ambitious and specific, defining the “it” that everyone should “get on with”. It formed the basis for planning that has started paying dividends after a year of death and economic destruction.

Goal setting and effective leadership

The federal government’s decision to abandon goals goes against research the Commonwealth itself commissioned just a few years ago.

In 2015, the federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations funded the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Workplace Leadership to survey more than 3,500 Australian workplaces about how the quality of management and leadership affects productivity and innovation.

The Study of Australian Leadership, which surveyed both private and public sector organisations, found very basic management practices to be among the most important drivers of organisational performance and innovation. These basic practices include setting clear and ambitious targets, communicating them, and regularly monitoring progress.

Scott Morrison communicates via a Facebook video on April 11 that the Australian government has abandoned vaccination uptake targets.
Scott Morrison communicates via a Facebook video on April 11 that the Australian government has abandoned vaccination uptake targets.
Facebook

Leading rapid implementation

Given the evidence, any government with claims to having competent leadership should be setting and communicating a clear and ambitious goal for its vaccination roll-out.

Successful roll-outs in other countries show this should be done in consultation with local and regional governments, health professionals and key players in the public and private sectors (who must also be involved in the design and implementation of strategies and processes).

Given the federal government’s own limited capacities at the local level (public hospitals, for example, are run by the state and territory governments), its engagement with other stakeholders must be meaningful — not just lip service. It must also resist the urge to control everything.

Let there be goals

When faced with complex problems, getting agreement on ambitious goals can be extremely powerful. Nor does it need to take forever, as is often claimed. Australia’s response to the pandemic in 2020 largely shows this.

There will be challenges with meeting targets. Vaccine supplies are limited. There will be hiccups. But abandoning any sense of ambition is not the answer.

Because COVID “writes its own rules”, as Morrison has rightly pointed out, the federal government should pursue multiple alternative paths to achieving its goals. In other words, it should not put all it eggs in one basket, as it did with its plan to rely on local GPs to deliver vaccines, rather than use “vaccination hubs” as other nations have done.




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Abandoning vaccination targets now undermines all that has been sacrificed to be in the relatively good position the nation is now in. The economic and social costs, as well as the potential further loss of life, will mount unless the Morrison government reconsiders its misguided decision.

It must put aside concerns about the political fallout of missing targets. We cannot “get on with it” without leadership that defines the “it” to be gotten on with.The Conversation

Peter Gahan, Professor of Management, Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne and Jesse E. Olsen, Senior Lecturer, Dept of Management & Marketing, Faculty of Business & Economics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The reward for good pandemic leadership: Lessons from Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand reelection


Suze Wilson, Massey University

The recent reelection of the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour government in New Zealand offers leaders elsewhere a potent lesson about how best to respond to COVID-19. Saving lives is, not surprisingly, a real vote-winner.

Ardern’s Oct. 17 victory was a record-breaking landslide. Labour secured 49% of the party vote and an expected 64 seats in the 120-member Parliament.

Labour can therefore govern alone, if it wishes. It’s the first time any party has had this choice since New Zealand moved to a mixed-member proportional electoral system in 1993.

Pending special votes, Labour has secured more support than its competitors in 77% of local neighorhoods. The result is the most dramatic swing in more than a century of elections.

The election outcome constitutes a compelling endorsement of Ardern, whose decisive response to the first wave of the coronavirus in March was a master class in crisis leadership.




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A COVID-19 election

It was commonly acknowledged that pandemic-related issues were always going to dominate this election. Ardern’s initial response to COVID-19 was grudgingly accepted as reasonably effective by the opposition National Party.

But the opposition also argued Labour “dropped the ball” in managing quarantine processes at the border and claimed the National Party was better placed to manage economic recovery.

A clear majority of voters obviously did not accept these views. Indeed, the election result suggests voters have confidence in Ardern.

Key features of her leadership approach to COVID-19 are discernible – and offer useful lessons for leaders elsewhere – even given the specific advantages New Zealand has, such as its geographic isolation and relatively small population.

Lessons in ‘lives and livelihoods’

My case study “Pandemic leadership: Lessons from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19” identifies Ardern’s resolute and persistent focus on minimizing harm to lives and livelihoods as one such key lesson.

Prioritizing both health and economic considerations as central concerns affords a fundamentally different strategy from the yo-yo-ing between either health or the economy, which characterizes the approach taken by the likes of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

While this dual focus doesn’t magically solve everything that might arise from COVID-19, emphasizing both as mission critical avoids the strategic misstep of allowing largely unfettered economic activity alongside weak levels of control over the virus’s spread.

Evidence continues to mount that such approaches end up costing both lives and livelihoods.

So this dual focus has been made clear and is ethically defensible, which helps in garnering the support of citizens – who are, after all, the voters.

Listen to and act on expert advice

Ardern is persistent in her commitment to a science-led approach. Effective engagement with the media by New Zealand’s director-general of health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, has lent real credibility to Ardern’s claims that the political arm of government is listening to independent, expert advice. This practice of being led by expertise is the second key feature of Ardern’s effective pandemic leadership.

Ardern also has a strong focus on mobilizing collective effort. This involves informing, educating and uniting people to do what’s needed to minimize harm to lives and livelihoods.

Tougher talk and action.

Regular press conferences show Ardern doesn’t pull her punches when delivering bad news, but she balances this with explaining why government directives matter and conveying empathy for their disruptive effects.

She also has a strong focus on practicalities and avoids getting defensive when questioned.

To secure unfiltered feedback from the public, she runs regular, impromptu Facebook Live sessions.

All these measures help give people confidence that Ardern genuinely cares about and is interested in people’s needs and views, thereby mobilizing community support for government mandates.

Ardern also focuses on actions that help to enable coping. This involves a range of initiatives to help people and organizations plan ahead. One example is the government’s Alert Level framework, which sets out the different rules and restrictions that apply depending on the current risk of community transmission.

A focus on building knowledge and skills relevant for surviving the pandemic, on kindness and on innovation form part of this approach, addressing both practical and emotional needs.

Diagram showing various leadership actions.
Pandemic leadership: A good practices framework.
Suze Wilson/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

No ‘magic bullet’ … but

None of this constitutes a magic bullet for easily overcoming COVID-19. Not in New Zealand nor anywhere else.

New Zealand’s economy is officially in recession. The August outbreak of new cases triggered a marked increase in misinformation and disinformation spread via social media, posing a clear threat to adherence with virus control measures.

And, looking ahead, the expectations on Ardern’s government to deliver economic recovery, as well as substantive progress on other key issues such as climate change and poverty reduction, are enormous.




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But even though Ardern’s approach has not been faultless, her reelection makes it clear the effective pandemic leadership practices she demonstrates attracted strong levels of voter support.

That’s a lesson no elected leader ought to ignore. For U.S. President Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection on Nov. 3 and whose nation has suffered 220,000 COVID deaths so far, it remains to be seen if voters will punish or endorse the kind of leadership approach he has taken to the pandemic.The Conversation

Suze Wilson, Senior Lecturer, Executive Development, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians highly confident of government’s handling of coronavirus and economic recovery: new research




Mark Evans, University of Canberra

Australians have exhibited high levels of trust in federal government during the coronavirus pandemic, a marked shift from most people’s views of government before the crisis began, new research shows.

Australians are also putting their trust in government at far higher rates than people in three other countries badly affected by the virus – the US, Italy and the UK.

The findings, published today in a new report, “Is Australia still the lucky country?”, are part of a broader comparative research collaboration between the Democracy 2025 initiative at the Museum of Australian Democracy and the TrustGov Project at the University of Southampton in the UK.

The research involved surveys of adults aged between 18 and 75 in all four countries in June to gauge whether public attitudes toward democratic institutions and practices had changed during the pandemic. We also asked about people’s compliance with coronavirus restrictions and their resilience to meet the challenge of the post-pandemic recovery.

The main proposition behind our research is that public trust is critical in times like this. Without it, the changes to public behaviour necessary to contain the spread of infection are slower and more resource-intensive.




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Levels of trust higher for most institutions

Australians are now exhibiting much higher levels of political trust in federal government (from 25% in 2019 to 54% in our survey), and the Australian public service (from 38% in 2018 to 54% in our survey).

Compared to the other three countries in our research, Australia’s trust in government also comes out on top. In the UK, only 41% of participants had high trust in government, while in Italy it was at 40% and the US just 34%.


Confidence in key institutions

Percentage who say they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence. (Note: the survey collect data on the Australian parliament as it didn’t convene during the period of data collection.)
Democracy 2025/TrustGov survey; Author provided

Australians also have high levels of confidence in institutions related to defence and law and order, such as the army (78%), police (75%) and the courts (55%). Levels of trust are also high in the health services (77%), cultural institutions (70%) and universities (61%). Notably, Australians exhibit high levels of trust in scientists and experts (77%).

These figures were comparable with the other countries in the survey, with the notable exception of Americans’ confidence in the health services, which stood at just 48%.

Although Australians continue to have low levels of trust in social media (from 20% in 2018 to 19% in our survey), confidence is gaining in other forms of news dissemination, such as TV (from 32% in 2018 to 39%), radio (from 38% in 2018 to 41%) and newspapers (from 29% in 2018 to 37%).


Public trust in various media, scientists and experts

Public trust in various media, scientists and experts (by percentage).
Democracy 2025/TrustGov survey; Author provided

How does Morrison compare with Trump and other leaders?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is perceived to be performing strongly in his management of the crisis by a significant majority of Australians (69%).

Indeed, he possesses the strongest performance measures in comparison with Italy (52% had high confidence in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte), the UK (37% for Prime Minister Boris Johnson) and the US (35% for President Donald Trump).

Morrison also scores highly when it comes to listening to experts, with 73% of Australians saying he does, compared to just 33% of Americans believing Trump does.


Public perceptions of leadership

Percentage of respondents in four countries who ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with statements about how their leader is handling COVID-19.
Democracy 2025/TrustGov survey; Author provided

Interestingly, Morrison’s approval numbers are also far higher than the state premiers in Australia. Only 37% of our respondents on average think their state premier or chief minister is “handling the coronavirus situation well”. Tasmanians (52%) and Western Australians (49%) had the highest confidence in their leaders’ handling of the crisis.

This suggests that in Australia, the politics of national unity (the “rally around the flag” phenomenon) is strong in times of crisis, whereas people tend to view the leaders of states or territories as acting in their own self-interest.


Perceptions of the quality of state and territory leadership

Perceptions of the quality of state and territory leadership during COVID-19.
Democracy 2025/TrustGov survey; Author provided

Compliance and resilience

Our findings also showed most Australians were complying with the key government measures to combat COVID-19, but were marginally less compliant than their counterparts in the UK. (Australians are relatively equal with Italians and Americans.)

Among the states and territories, Victorians have been the most compliant with anti-COVID-19 measures, while the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory were the least compliant. This is in line with the low levels of reported cases in these jurisdictions and by the lower public perception of the risk of infection.




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When it comes to resilience to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic recovery, we considered confidence in social, economic and political factors.

Although a majority of Australians (60%) expect COVID-19 to have a “high” or “very high” level of financial threat for them and their families, they are less worried than their counterparts in Italy, the UK and US about the threat COVID-19 poses “to the country” (33%), “to them personally” (19%), or “to their job or business” (29%).


Perceptions of the level of threat posed by COVID-19

Percentage of respondents who agree or strongly agree with the statements about the economic threat posed by coronavirus.
Democracy 2025/TrustGov survey; Author provided.

About half of all Australians believe the economy will get worse in the next year (this is slightly higher than in the US but much lower than in the UK and Italy). In Australia, women, young people, Labor voters and those on lower incomes with lower levels of qualifications are the most pessimistic on all confidence measures.

However, Australians remain highly confident the country will bounce back from COVID-19, with most believing Australia is “more resilient than most other countries” (72%).


Perceptions of Australian resilience

Perceptions of Australian resilience compared to other countries.
Democracy 2025/TrustGov survey; Author provided

We also assessed whether views about how democracy works should change as a result of the pandemic. An overwhelming majority of people said they wanted politicians to be more honest and fair (87%), be more decisive but accountable for their actions (82%) and be more collaborative and less adversarial (82%).

Staying lucky

Australia has been lucky in terms of its relative geographical isolation from international air passenger traffic during the pandemic.

But Australia has also benefited from effective governance – facilitated by strong political bipartisanship from Labor – and by atypical coordination of state and federal governments via the National Cabinet.

The big question now is whether Morrison can sustain strong levels of public trust in the recovery period.




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There are two positive lessons to be drawn from the government’s management of COVID-19 in this regard.

First, the Australian people expects their governments to continue to listen to the experts, as reflected in the high regard that Australians have for evidence-based decision-making observed in the survey.

Second, the focus on collaboration and bipartisanship has played well with an Australian public fed up with adversarial politics.

The critical insight then is clear: Australia needs to embrace this new style of politics – one that is cleaner, collaborative and evidence-based – to drive post-COVID-19 recovery and remain a lucky country.The Conversation

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 – bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Open, honest and effective: what makes Jacinda Ardern an authentic leader


Andrei Alexander Lux, Edith Cowan University

The qualities that have made Jacinda Ardern New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in a century were on display this week as she took an earthquake in her stride during a live television interview.

“We’re fine,” she declared cheerfully as the 5.9-magnitude quake shook New Zealand’s parliament house in Wellington for 15 seconds. “I’m not under any hanging lights.”

Her coolness under pressure, self-discipline and the decisiveness of her government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led some to call Ardern the most effective national leader in the world.

But the key ingredient to her popularity and effectiveness is her authenticity.

In the words of Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister from 1999 to 2008, Ardern is a natural and empathetic communicator who doesn’t preach at people, but instead signals that she’s “standing with them”:

“They may even think: ‘Well, I don’t quite understand why the government did that, but I know she’s got our back.’ There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.”

These insights are confirmed by my own research into authentic leadership.

How we respond to authentic leaders

As a lecturer in business leadership, I’m particularly interested in the value of authenticity in the workplace. Part of my research (with colleagues Steven Grover and Stephen Teo) has involved surveying more than 800 workers across Australia to find out how the behaviour of their leaders shapes their feelings about work.

For better or worse, leaders often represent the entire organisation to their employees. How we feel about our boss transfers into how we see the company as a whole, just as political leaders represent the nation.

The results from that survey were decisive: employees were, on average, 40% more likely to want to come to work when they saw their line manager as an authentic leader; and those who came to work because they wanted to were 61% more engaged and 60% more satisfied with their jobs.

At a time when careers routinely span multiple organisations and the nature of work becomes more transient, these results demonstrate the value of positive personal connections in the workplace.

Our research also sheds light on four qualities we value in authentic leaders.

But first, let’s dispel a common misconception.

What authentic leadership isn’t

Authentic leadership doesn’t just mean “being true to yourself”. This notion has led some to describe the likes of Donald Trump as authentic.

But authentic leaders are not simply callous, self-serving individuals with no social filter. According to Claudia Peus and her co-authors of a seminal 2012 article on authentic leadership:

“Authentic leaders are guided by sound moral convictions and act in concordance with their deeply held values, even under pressure. They are keenly aware of their views, strengths, and weaknesses, and strive to understand how their leadership impacts others.”

1. Authentic leaders know themselves

Authentic leaders manifest the Ancient Greek maxim to “know thyself”. They know what truly matters to them, and their own strengths and weaknesses.

Our values are often hidden assumptions; revealing them requires an active and honest process of personal reflection.

Before we can lead others, we must first lead ourselves.




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2. They follow a moral compass

Authentic leaders have the courage to stand up and act on their values, rather than bending to social norms. Doing what you feel is right is rarely easy, especially when lives are on the line, but that’s when it matters the most.

An example comes from the last time businesses around the world were struggling this badly, the 2008 global financial crisis. When the board of US-based manufacturing company Barry-Wehmiller wanted to discuss layoffs, chief executive Bob Chapman refused.

Instead, Chapman asked everyone to take four weeks’ unpaid leave, saying: “It’s better that we should all suffer a little than any of us should have to suffer a lot.” The company has since gone from strength to strength under his “truly human leadership”.

3. They appreciate their own biases

Authentic leaders are aware of their own biases and strive to see things from multiple viewpoints. We cannot know all sides to an issue and must work to understand and respect others’ perspectives before forming opinions or making decisions.

Acting in the best interests of the collective requires a lucid and compassionate understanding of how our actions affect other people.




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4. They are open and honest

Authentic leaders cultivate open and honest relationships through active self-disclosure. Dropping one’s guard and letting people in isn’t always easy, especially in the workplace. Yet only when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of another person can they open up to us in return.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison appears to have learnt this lesson since the beginning of the year, when his response to Australia’s catastrophic bushfire season led to unfavourable comparisons with Ardern.




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After the Morrison government revealed a $A60 billion budgeting error over its COVID-19 JobKeeper package, he swallowed his pride and accepted fault, acknowledging that “responsibility for the problem ultimately rested with him.”

It’s a stark contrast to Trump’s refusal to admit any mistake in his handing of the US response.

Authenticity: the power to unite

Support for an authentic leadership approach isn’t unanimous. A notable critic, professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, has stated that: “Leaders don’t need to be true to themselves; in fact, being authentic is the opposite of what they should do.”

But our research reveals the power of authenticity to unite people behind a collective cause. Relationships built on mutual trust and shared values are the key.

Jacinda Ardern’s unprecedented popularity mirrors these results. When we see authentic leadership, we know instinctively that we prefer it.The Conversation

Andrei Alexander Lux, Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Behaviour, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why good leaders need to hold the hose: how history might read Morrison’s coronavirus leadership



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

What does political leadership look like in a pandemic?

Many of us probably carry images in our heads of what good leadership might be in a depression or a war. But before 2020 few of us would have had any conception of what political leadership might look like during a life-threatening public health crisis.

We took from last summer some fairly firm ideas of what leadership in a bushfire crisis should not look like. Political leaders should not leave for luxurious overseas holidays. They should not expect those who fear for their lives and property to find inspiration in the exploits of the Australian cricket team. They should not force themselves onto traumatised people when offering nothing except the chance to participate in a photo opportunity. They should not run party-political advertisements that seek to obscure their own monumental failures.




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Charles II: good in a crisis.
Royal Museums Greenwich

Above all, they should not announce that it’s not their job to hold the hose. As it happens, we already had a famous model of what a national leader might do in a fire.

In 1666, King Charles II of England was widely regarded as a worthless playboy with nothing much to his credit. In 1665, London lost tens of thousands of people in the Great Plague and there was little that he, or anyone else, had been able to do about it. When a fire broke out in Pudding Lane in the following year, few had any reason to expect Charles would distinguish himself. But his leadership in that fire is famous. It was brave, inspiring and, yes, although he did not hold the hose, he did pass the buckets.

Crises can make leaders but they can also break them – or, as happened over the summer with Morrison, nearly break them. In a recent book, labour historian Liam Byrne explores the early lives and careers of two Labor prime ministers, James Scullin and John Curtin. Each was a product of the Victorian labour movement. Each had regarded himself as a socialist. Each would face a massive national crisis on becoming prime minister that required them to put aside the beliefs of a lifetime.

Scullin faced the Great Depression of the 1930s. He emerged from a brief time in government at the beginning of 1932 damaged and bewildered. The crisis was the breaking and not the making of him. To be fair, it’s hard to imagine how, given the state of the Australian economy and the scale of the problem he faced, anyone could have done much better.

When Australian prime ministers are ranked, Scullin usually occupies a lowly place while Curtin often comes out on top. The success of Curtin’s wartime leadership wasn’t predictable. He was a anti-conscriptionist during the first world war who saw that war as a scheme devised by capitalists to divide and conquer the working class. He was moody, aloof and a worrier. But the crisis of the Pacific War was the making of Curtin as a leader, even if he would not live to see the peace.

We should not exaggerate the extent to which Australians fell in behind Curtin’s urgings. In the present crisis, I’ve occasionally been reminded, during some of Morrison’s occasionally hectoring and patronising performances, of the difficulties Curtin faced.

Morrison called panic-buying “un-Australian”, but it must be sufficiently Australian also to have occurred during the war, when people got wind of the approach of clothing rationing. Morrison’s infantilising “early mark” made some bristle in the same way, inevitably, as grown-ups came to resent petty government restrictions during the second world war. The minister in charge of rationing, John Dedman, was famously lampooned for having banned pink icing on wedding cakes and for killing Santa Claus with his restrictions on Christmas advertising. Even in war, adults expect to be treated as adults.

A poster from 1942.
Queensland Museum

Morrison could not afford another leadership failure when coronavirus hit. My own view of his leadership by the end of the last summer is that it was badly damaged but unlikely to be terminal. He had already shown himself as an adaptable politician and I expected he would also enjoy the help of a friendly right-wing media in repairing it.

Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir presents a hostile but mainly persuasive account of Morrison as a politician. Turnbull presents him as sneaky and duplicitous. But more importantly, in making sense of his recent leadership, Morrison is painted as a pragmatic political professional unattached to ideology and quite prepared to pick up and drop policies according to his perception of the needs – including his own – in any context.




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For Morrison, the science on climate change is negotiable, but the science on coronavirus is the last word. He is the kind of leader who is off to the footy one moment and everyone else should also get out and about, then that he’s not and everyone must stay home. He can dismiss the need for a wage subsidy one week and then announce a A$130 billion package the next. He can double the JobSeeker allowance after having for years staunchly opposed even a minor increase as an affront to self-reliance and an intolerable incentive to the unemployed to stay that way.

Morrison can do all of this with very few backward glances and then – if it suits his purposes and he can get away with it – reverse the lot when that suits him as well.

So there is Morrison’s adaptability. But there is also a helpful conservative media. Here, Morrison is not just a nimble leader with a well-developed survival instinct. He is positively Churchillian.

Greg Sheridan of The Australian was early out of the blocks near the end of March. “Scott Morrison could become Australia’s most important war-time leader,” he declared. “If he succeeds, he will join a pantheon which at the moment consists only of John Curtin, a leader who got us through, who worried us through, our last existential challenge.”

More recently, Sheridan’s colleague, Paul Kelly, has extended this to an attack on state premiers as “laggards”. He asked rhetorically whether they were “free riders on the Morrison government and the banks, who keep the economy alive at such dire cost”.

A prime minister who can rely on such free promotion has good reason to expect a bright political future. And Labor Party figures are entitled to ask if they could have expected such generosity in the context of draconian restrictions on personal freedom and massive spending aimed at propping up the economy and saving lives.

As we return to something like political business as usual, Morrison is likely to be subjected to efforts to make him and his government accountable that he has long shown he regards as onerous. How he deals with those, and with the immense challenges of rebuilding the economy in the context of debt, deficit, global depression and the danger of new outbreaks of disease, may well be a more testing challenge to his leadership than anything so far.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the coronavirus pandemic is (finally) resulting in leadership for the greater good



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Samuel Wilson, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Swinburne University of Technology; Sylvia T. Gray, Swinburne University of Technology, and Timothy Colin Bednall, Swinburne University of Technology

In the space of six weeks, the threat posed by COVID-19 and the sudden absence of partisanship from the political landscape have ushered in a focus on leadership for the greater good, the likes of which we haven’t seen for years.

Leadership for the greater good occurs when leaders create value for society in a manner that is transparent, accountable and ethical. Once conspicuous by its absence, it now seems to be everywhere, and gratifyingly so in the institutions where it counts most.




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Our survey process

As an extension of our Australian Leadership Index (ALI) – a long-running survey to gauge public perceptions of leadership for the greater good – we have asked Australians over the past five weeks to judge the performance of various institutions during the current pandemic.

Each institution receives a score based on the number of people who said the institution showed leadership to a “large extent” or “extremely large extent”, minus those who responded “some extent” or “not at all”.

Notably, by taking the pulse of Australians weekly, we can track how public opinion is changing. When these findings are compared to our wider survey results, which we have been collecting quarterly since September 2018, the results are striking.

The ascent of leadership for the greater good

Prior to the pandemic, the public had a dim view of the state of leadership in Australia. This has been consistent from September 2018 to March 2020.

However, in the week of March 13-19, in specific response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public sentiment entered positive territory (+1) for the first time in a year and a half. Even more striking, these perceptions have improved week-on-week to a score of +34 in the week of April 15-22.

What a difference a(nother) crisis makes

The improvement in public perceptions is most remarkable for the federal government, particularly in light of the recent bushfire crisis.

Throughout the bushfires, the public consistently judged the federal government’s leadership for the greater good as poor. From the beginning (-32) to the end (-25) of the crisis, its ALI score was negative – most people thought the government was failing to demonstrate effective leadership.




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Fast-forward to mid-March, however, and the federal government’s fortunes changed dramatically. In the week of March 13-19, the government’s ALI score (+24) surged into positive territory for the first time since we started running the surveys.

Public perceptions have improved every week since then, hitting a high score of +47 recorded in the past week.

The pattern of results for state governments is almost exactly the same, but interestingly, state governments have trailed the federal government in most of our weekly polls, with the exception of the week ending April 1.

Public health still at the top

A consistent finding of our surveys from the beginning has been the high esteem in which our respondents have held the public sector.

Notably, since we started measuring public perceptions, the public sector has always outscored government when it comes to demonstrating leadership for the greater good.

However, during the coronavirus pandemic, our respondents have viewed both the public sector and government in practically the same light.

The gains for the public sector are largely accounted for by public health institutions, which have been judged overwhelmingly as showing the greatest degree of leadership for the greater good of all institutions measured.

Public health institutions have also far outpaced private health institutions in our surveys during the pandemic.




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This pattern is replicated in other sectors. Public education and media institutions, for instances, have been viewed much more favourably than their private counterparts during the crisis.

The worst performers in terms of leadership for the greater good throughout the pandemic have been health insurance companies, religious institutions, trade unions and multinational corporations.

What does this mean for the state of leadership in Australia?

The ALI was founded on the principle that leaders should act beyond self-interest to benefit the greater good, and this leadership should come from institutions across all sectors.

Since its inception, the results have painted a dim picture of the state of leadership across Australia, with the exception of only a few institutions, such as charities and public health.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily brought the wider public interest to the fore, and institutions across all sectors have instigated measures to protect the greater good.

To be sure, crises crystallise a shared understanding of the common good and encourage people to pull together in a manner not typical of more ordinary times.

Nevertheless, by shining a light on leadership for the greater good and how it can be improved, this pandemic may yet have a silver lining for the future.The Conversation

Samuel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Lecturer of Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology; Sylvia T. Gray, Research Assistant and Casual Academic, Swinburne University of Technology, and Timothy Colin Bednall, Senior Lecturer in Management, Fellow of the APS College of Organisational Psychologists, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Three reasons why Jacinda Ardern’s coronavirus response has been a masterclass in crisis leadership



Jacinda Ardern/Facebook

Suze Wilson, Massey University

Imagine, if you can, what it’s like to make decisions on which the lives of tens of thousands of other people depend. If you get things wrong, or delay deciding, they die.

Your decisions affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, resulting in huge economic disruption, mass layoffs and business closures. Imagine you must act quickly, without having complete certainty your decisions will achieve what you hope.

Now imagine that turning your decisions into effective action depends on winning the support of millions of people.


Jacinda Ardern/Facebook

Yes, you do have enforcement capacity at your disposal. But success or failure hinges on getting most people to choose to follow your leadership – even though it demands sudden, unsettling, unprecedented changes to their daily lives.

This is the harsh reality political leaders around the world have faced in responding to COVID-19.

As someone who researches and teaches leadership – and has also worked in senior public sector roles under both National and Labour-led governments – I’d argue New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving most Western politicians a masterclass in crisis leadership.

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Three communication skills every leader needs

When it comes to assessing New Zealand’s public health response, we should all be listening to epidemiologists like Professor Michael Baker. On Friday, Baker said New Zealand had the “most decisive and strongest lockdown in the world at the moment” – and that New Zealand is “a huge standout as the only Western country that’s got an elimination goal” for COVID-19.

But how can we assess Ardern’s leadership in making such difficult decisions? A good place to start is with American professors Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield’s research into effective leadership communication.

The Mayfields’ research-based model highlights “direction-giving”, “meaning-making” and “empathy” as the three key things leaders must address to motivate followers to give their best.

Being a public motivator is essential for leaders – but it’s often done poorly. The Mayfields’ research shows direction-giving is typically over-used, while the other two elements are under-used.

Ardern’s response to COVID-19 uses all three approaches. In directing New Zealanders to “stay home to save lives”, she simultaneously offers meaning and purpose to what we are being asked to do.

In freely acknowledging the challenges we face in staying home – from disrupted family and work lives, to people unable to attend loved ones’ funerals – she shows empathy about what is being asked of us.

The March 23 press conference announcement of New Zealand’s lockdown is a clear example of Ardern’s skillful approach, comprising a carefully crafted speech, followed by extensive time for media questions.

In contrast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pre-recorded his March 24 lockdown announcement, offering no chance for questions from the media, while framing the situation as an “instruction” from government, coupled with a strong emphasis on enforcement measures.

Where Ardern blended direction, care and meaning-making, Johnson largely sought “compliance”.




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Enabling people to cope with change

Ardern’s approach also strongly reflects what well-known Harvard leadership scholar Professor Ronald Heifetz has long argued is vital – but also rare and difficult to accomplish – when leading people through change.

Ardern has used daily televised briefings and regular Facebook live sessions to clearly frame the key questions and issues requiring attention.

Extracts from Jacinda Ardern’s evening Facebook Live from home on March 25, hours before New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown.

Also consistent with Heifetz’s teachings, she has regulated distress by developing a transparent framework for decision-making – the government’s alert level framework – allowing people to make sense of what is happening and why.

Importantly, that four-level alert framework was released and explained early, two days before a full lockdown was announced, in contrast with the prevarication and sometimes confusing messages from leaders in countries such as Australia and the UK.

Jacinda Ardern’s March 21 explanation of New Zealand’s four-level alert system.

Persuading many to act for the collective good

The work of another leadership scholar, the UK’s Professor Keith Grint, also sheds light on Ardern’s leadership approach during this crisis.

For Grint, leadership involves persuading the collective to take responsibility for collective problems. Much of the prime minister’s public commentary has been dedicated to exactly that – and it’s been overwhelmingly effective, at least so far, with a recent poll showing 80% support for the government’s response to COVID-19.

Grint also argues that when dealing with “wicked problems” – which are complex, contentious and cannot be easily resolved – leaders must ask difficult questions that disrupt established ways of thinking and acting.

It’s clear this has happened in New Zealand, as shown in the suite of initiatives the government has taken to respond to the pandemic, including its decision to move to a national lockdown relatively fast compared to many – though not all – countries.




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Of course, not everything has been perfect in New Zealand’s or Ardern’s COVID-19 response. Ongoing, independent scrutiny of the government’s response is essential.

But as my own research has argued, expecting perfection of leaders, especially in such difficult circumstances, is a fool’s errand.

It’s never possible. Nor should we allow the “perfect” to become the enemy of the “good” when speed and enormous complexity are such significant features of the decision-making context.

Whether you’re comparing Ardern’s performance against other Western leaders, or assessing her efforts using researchers’ measures of leadership excellence, as a New Zealander I think there is much to be grateful for in how she is leading us through this crisis.

Stay in touch with The Conversation’s coverage from New Zealand experts by signing up to our weekly newsletter – delivered to you each Wednesday.The Conversation

Suze Wilson, Senior Lecturer, Executive Development, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Which leaders and health experts will be on the right side of history on COVID-19 policy?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

After the coronavirus nightmare has passed, harsh judgments will be made about which political leaders and health experts were on the right or wrong side in handling this crisis.

Politicians like to cast back to the global financial crisis and play the blame game. The stakes were very high then – this time they are multiplied.

And there are many with futures or reputations (or both) on the line.

This week we’ve seen a high-profile clash of opinions and expertise on display. Given the exponential rise in cases, the calls for everyone to be on the same page must be secondary to the imperative of getting the right strategy.

One school of thought says, put health first and go nuclear now, with a full lockdown. The other school favours a stepped approach, tightening the screws but trying to keep as much economic activity alive for as long as possible.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Labor) and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) are hardliners. Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton spoke out forcefully this week. The two premiers have given notice their states are set to move to lockdown (where people would be confined to their homes). Jacinda Ardern has already taken New Zealand there.

With the divide crossing partisan lines, Andrews and Berejiklian are working closely together.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the prime advocate of the gradual approach. Resisting a full lockdown, he argued strongly this week he didn’t want to throw people out of jobs where it was possible to avoid doing so, and he feared the consequences of the stresses the economic crisis would put on families.

For Morrison, it’s a balancing act, in the face of “a twin crisis, a crisis on a health front, which is also causing a crisis in the economy as well. And both of them can be equally as deadly, both in terms of the lives of Australians and their livelihood.”




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Labor has aligned with the position taken by Andrews and Berejiklian. From the start, the opposition has been urging faster action; this week Anthony Albanese sharpened his criticism.

He disputed “there is a tension between dealing with the health issues and dealing with the economic issues. That is a false distinction.

“The government has a responsibility to deal with this health emergency. That is the first priority. Then, it needs to deal with the economic consequences of the health emergency and the appropriate response. It needs to be done in that order.”

Those who argue Labor is just playing politics and should be sticking to the government line are off beam. This is a policy crisis too and policy arguments are legitimate and indeed necessary.

Among federal officials, the secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, is reportedly a hardliner.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (who has been appointed secretary of the Health Department) and his deputy, Paul Kelly, have been strong public defenders of the gradualist path.

Yet in the health world many in academia are advocates of an immediate lockdown.

The prime minister has found his hand being forced by the states (as in Sunday’s argy bargy on shutdowns) or bypassed (on schools).

Morrison has been a firm advocate of keeping the schools open, arguing it’s vital so health workers can continue in their jobs, and also because children shouldn’t lose a year of education.

This week Berejiklian advised parents to keep children home, while Andrews brought forward the school holidays. Western Australia is now encouraging remaining at home as new arrangements are prepared. Next week Queensland schools will be “student free” (apart from children of “frontline workers”). South Australia is likewise planning for the future.




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Academic experts are at the centre of the policy battle, and this carries its own politics.

Take a paper, commissioned by the federal government, reporting the advice of 22 experts from Group Of Eight universities. Dated Sunday, it put forward two views.

“One view, influenced by our position on the epidemic curve, the limitations of wide community testing and surveillance and the experience of other countries, argues for a comprehensive, simultaneous ban across Australia.

“The other, influenced by the fact that a large number of our cases are a direct/contacts of importation (which have now been stopped), influenced by the large variation in case density across Australia and the adverse consequences of closure and the sustainability and compliance to an early closure, argued for a more proportionate response”.

The first view was “a dominant position in this group”, the paper said. What it didn’t add was that this was the overwhelming view.

When asked about the paper at a Tuesday news conference, both Morrison and Murphy were noticeably uneasy. Morrison flicked the question to Murphy who said: “Any measures we place, we believe need to be for the long haul. The idea that you can put measures in place for four weeks and suddenly stop them and the virus will be gone is not credible. So we are very keen to put as restrictive measures in place without completely destroying life as we know it.”

Another paper circulating, including to senior business figures, argues “the case for a short, sharp lockdown in Australia”. It has been contributed to by Raina MacIntyre, who heads UNSW’s Biosecurity Program; Louisa Jorm, director of the Centre for Big Data Research in Health, UNSW; Tim Churches, health data scientist at UNSW; and Richard Nunes-Vaz, from Torrens Resilience Institute at Flinders University.

“We are deeply concerned about the prospect of Australia losing control of the epidemic to a degree which would exceed health system capacity and result in far greater numbers of cases, more health and economic losses, and a longer time to societal recovery,” the paper says.

“A short, sharp lockdown of 4-8 weeks will improve control of the epidemic in Australia, reduce case numbers and bring us to a more manageable baseline from which phased lifting of restrictions and economic recovery can occur.

“If we fail to do this, we face continued epidemic growth, potential failure of the health system, and a far longer road to recovery.”

The lockdown would be used to ramp up a massive testing operation to identify and isolate cases, enabling the subsequent ease-off to be done more safely.

On Thursday the federal government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly suggested challenges to official advice made for public confusion and should be kept behind closed doors.

Not if the challengers turn out to be right.

Morrison received praise in the early days for his handling of the crisis. Now he and his closest health advisers are increasingly finding themselves the odd men out.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lack of confidence in US leadership adds to coronavirus panic


The Conversation/Google Earth, CC BY-ND

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to the bone this week, this represented the most decisive action taken so far to forestall recession caused by a global health crisis.

The US central bank’s dramatic intervention is an acknowledgement that a health pandemic risks the most severe downturn in the global economy since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09.

But the question should be asked: why it is being left to the Fed to do the heavy lifting in response to a global health emergency that risks morphing into an economic crisis?

What sort of leadership is the White House providing globally?

Why, indeed, has the US president not convened a meeting of G20 leaders, or officials, to coordinate a global response to the pandemic itself and to risks of a severe economic retrenchment?




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The short answer is that American leadership has been conflicted.

President Donald Trump’s initial response to the emergence of the COVID-19 contagion in China was to play down its likely effects.

At one point Trump referred to reports of an emerging pandemic as a “hoax” designed to harm his presidency.

His media allies attacked those who sought to raise the alarm.

Valuable time has been squandered in forging a global response to a global health emergency and now economic crisis-in-the-making.

Winston Churchill has had attributed to him what may be an apocryphal quote. This is that America always does the right thing once it has exhausted other possibilities.

In the age of Trump, it would take a leap of faith to assume American leadership will provide the sort of guidance the world has come to expect, even take for granted.

America may, as Churchill observed, step up, but precious time has been lost.

Various world leaders, including Australia’s Scott Morrison, have begun calling for an emergency G20 session to respond to the risks of a much more severe slowdown than had seemed likely as recently as late February.

At a G20 gathering in Riyadh, finance ministers and heads of central banks resolved to monitor risks to the global economy.

Surprisingly, these officials did not come forward with a plan beyond an agreement to take “further action” if global growth slowed more sharply than the International Monetary Fund anticipated.

In a presentation, the IMF predicted the pandemic would shave a modest 0.1% off global growth. Growth would pick up in the latter half of the year and into 2021.

Depending on the longevity of the COVID-19 crisis, that expectation now appears far-fetched and even laughable. China’s growth has been revised down sharply in the latest IMF assessments.

In view of what has transpired in the three weeks since the Riyadh meeting it is clear the IMF significantly understated the economic consequences of a mushrooming health emergency.

Riyadh participants, who included US Treasury Steven Mnuchin, would certainly not have anticipated the sort of dramatic action taken overnight by the Federal Reserve.

Nor would they have expected the speed with which coronavirus has spread across the globe.

The Fed reduced its benchmark interest rate to a range of 0-0.25%. This is effectively a zero rate of interest, trending towards negative interest rates. This is not a vote of confidence in the durability of the American economy, or in the resilience of the global system.

The central bank’s loosening of the spigots in the purchases of billions of dollars of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed debt – so-called quantitative easing – is designed to throw a lifeline to a sputtering economy.

The last thing America needs is another mortgage-backed securities meltdown. This is what brought on the GFC.

None of this reflects a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American and global economies to withstand the twin shocks of a health emergency and a global economy made vulnerable by an overdependence on Chinese growth.




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As a growth engine, China had been pumping up global growth, but the air is going out of those tyres. Irrespective of how long the COVID-19 crisis lasts, we will enter a new phase in which Chinese growth will be tempered.

In the meantime, the world finds itself at its most precarious moment since the GFC. The health emergency might be brought under control without lasting damage to the global economy. Global growth might be restored to an extent.

However, what remains in question is whether an American administration led by an avowed populist who has eschewed a global leadership role will become the champion of a much-needed multilateral response to a health and economic crisis.

When the GFC hit, America stepped up. Then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen guided an American response. The G20 played its part.

Lack of confidence in American leadership is not least of the contributing factors to a global sense of panic. The Federal Reserve has done its best. It might not be enough.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison, compassion and coronavirus: when crisis refines leadership


Sen Sendjaya, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Monash University

News that the Morrison government paid A$190,000 last year for advice on how to empathise with the Australian people was met with ridicule.

Yet it might be worth the money.

In late January, Morrison was continually criticised for appearing to lack compassion over the bushfires.

He himself said, “there are things I could have handed on the ground much better”.

There are signs he has taken that to heart during the coronavirus outbreak.




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He has acknowledged unknowns and people’s fear of the unknown, and used inclusive language along the lines of, “together we will get through this”.

It’s been more than getting the narrative right. We’ve seen capable and compassionate leadership, even “servant leadership”.

Problems, not projects, make leaders. Real leaders faced with real problems put their followers before themselves.

Servant leadership works

Research shows that “servant leaders” make good leaders.

Their stories explain the success of many of the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, including Zappos.com, Marriot International, and TDIndustries.

In a recently published state-of-the-art review of servant leadership, we argue that servant leadership makes sense empirically, financially and psychologically.

Our review of 285 studies on servant leadership in 39 countries finds the approach creates better leader-follower relationships, in turn boosting performance metrics including employee satisfaction and well being, commitment, and innovation.

It can help in the polls

It is probably why we react positively in the polls when our political leaders show compassion.

The latest Newspoll suggests his approach to the coronavirus has done him no harm.

Financially, servant leadership is a worthwhile investment because it is correlated with individual, team, and organisational performance better than other forms of leadership.

Psychologically, it helps individuals shift from a concern for themselves towards a concern for others, creating a culture of service.

Servant leadership is made up of six dimensions that can be applied on a daily basis:

It is a common misconception that in times of crisis we need leaders with a command-and-control and domineering approach, and those who demonstrate compassion will be seen as weak.

Compassion needs genuine strength

The truth is that being compassionate does not signal weakness, inferiority, or a lack of self-respect.

On the contrary, only those with a secure sense of self, strength of character, and psychological maturity are able to put aside themselves and instead serve others in times of crisis.

Being compassionate isn’t easy, as Morrison knows.

But it’s never too late to start.




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The Conversation


Sen Sendjaya, Professor of Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Senior Lecturer, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.