Crossover skills may be the mark of a true leader

LEADERSHIP is a package, says Murdoch University MBA program chair John Krasnostein.

“It is a package that includes skills, talents and personality traits that allows a person to have a vision for an organisation and the ability to inspire their employees or colleagues to achieve that vision,” Mr Krasnostein said.

“A leader needs to have a long-term vision and to be able to go beyond current technical and organisational issues to find the challenges that will affect it in the future.

“They need to find the opportunities and threats that will hit the organisations over the next five to 10 years and find a way to benefit from them.

“Of course there are people who can sit in an office and think their way through a plan for an organisation, but that’s not really leadership. A leader has to combine that long-term view with the ability to implement and get the people going.”

Mr Krasnostein said that, in most cases, there was nothing to suggest a leader in one field could not be a leader in another field.

“Leadership has very little to do with the substance or content of the business,” he said.

“Kerry Sanderson is a case in point. She had a background in science and ended up running the Fremantle Port Authority.

“Another example is John Fletcher who left Brambles to head up Coles Myer. The people at Coles Myer are banking on his leadership skills being transferrable.

“That may be one of the few exceptions because retailing is hard business.”

Mr Krasnostein said the ability to transfer leadership skills also depended on the state the organisation was in.

He said some leaders worked best when a company was in a time of crisis, while others worked well in other situations.

“Over the past 30 years there has been a lot of psychological research into leadership. The research has found there is a situational aspect to people adopting leadership,” Mr Krasnostein said.

“Some people come to the fore when a group is presented with a threat, even though they had never displayed any signs of being a leader before.

“The old view was that leaders were born and not made, but research shows that is not always the case. I think it’s a case of a bit of both.

“There are many leadership training courses around and they can help to develop leaders.

“But what happens when you teach a leadership course to a group is only some will respond, and those are usually the ones who already have some leadership traits in their personality and background.

“Some of the universities in the US, which specialise in leadership courses, spend a lot of time selecting candidates. If you take in leaders then you are going to graduate leaders.

“We tend to only notice those leaders in the top 5 per cent of the population, such as politicians or business high-flyers.

“The truth is, many people in society are leaders, but the wider community doesn’t recognise them. It could be they are a supervisor at Action supermarkets who makes their way up to a management position because of their leadership ability.”

Mr Krasnostein said Australia, and WA in particular, had a chance to become a leader in Asia.

“The world has handed us a unique gift in terms of location. We are the closest Western country to Asia,” he said.

“In Europe, for example, they have little knowledge of Asia. Many there see it as a place of rickshaws and pointy straw hats.

“But, being a small country, we have to choose our markets carefully.”

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