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Follow the leader may not be the right move

LOOKING back helps us see forwards. The past tells us where we are now which then suggests where we may be heading. Australia in the 1980s was a highly protected, inward focussed, tariff protected and finely regulated economic reality.

The fact that the rest of the world, particularly Asia, was rapidly moving in just the opposite direction did not bother us much as we continued doing what we had always done in our happy little sheltered cocoons.

Then came the recession we all had to have.

The cocoon vanished, the real world thrust itself into our awareness and big change was inevitable. Tariffs were reduced, financial markets were deregulated and micro-economic reform was underway.

The 1990s hurtled us into major reforms of the labour market, taxation, competition, and public sector administration. No wonder we are lurching from pressure group to crisis to stress overload.

Add to this the information highway roadkill and we should congratulate ourselves for merely surviving; economic growth is a bonus.

The Karpin Report of 1995 clearly identified why we needed the immense change we then suffered.

The choice was to radically shift into world gear or continue on the path to a banana republic.

The only lovers of banana republics are the multinational banana plantation owners – and monkeys.

So have we gained with the pain? Last month in Perth, David Karpin presented the view that managers are generally evolving well.

To use his terminology, we have progressed from the autocrats of the 1960-70s – the male, anglocelt, up-through-the-ranks, local focus, one overseas trip, paternalistic, low stress, very stable environment, no flexibility manager.

While you may know some managers stuck here in the 60s (you may BE one), many senior managers continued to evolve into the communicator.

The communicator of the 1980-90s was still male, anglocelt, but probably a graduate MBA, from a corporate development program, travelled regularly, had expanded foci, saw deregulated marketplace competition, saw workforce as stakeholders, pursued skilling in communication, was in a turbulent with high-stress environment and probably burned out. (We call this progress in economic rationalism.)

Unfortunately, many senior managers are either bogged down in still learning how to communicate or are damaged survivors of burnout and grimly clinging to the remaining shreds of their pre-90s identity.

Neither group is maintaining their evolution into this decade to become what David Karpin calls the leader/enabler – male or female, ethnically varied, a graduate, possibly post-grad, has a diverse career, global focus, travels regularly, has resided in two plus countries, delegates heavily, shares info, has a rapidly changing environment with a limited term appointment, very high pressure and is results-driven.

Is this you? If not, maybe all is not lost. Perhaps we need to put our stressful spaceship life on autopilot for a minute and look where the leader/enabler is heading.

We may decide we do not want to go there, after all.

• Ann Macbeth is a futurist and principal of Annimac Consultants.

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