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It’s a question of leadership

AN environment allowing leaders to bloom must be fostered if Australia is to succeed, says Edith Cowan University executive dean of the faculty of business and public management Wally Cox.

Professor Cox wants to see Australia recognised as a nation that boasts world-class leaders in both government and the corporate world.

“We in WA are very exposed to the international economy and, as a consequence, we need leaders who understand both the international and domestic economy,” he said.

But Professor Cox admits leadership is not a talent that Australia has developed well.

While six Australians are currently leading Fortune 500 companies – some would say a good result given the size of the nation’s population – Prof Cox believes we can do better.

That is part of the reason ECU is one of the four universities backing Business News’ 40 Under 40 program.

“Leadership, both in business and technology is critical to our nation,” he said.

“We haven’t spent enough time developing our people’s personal skills.

“That in turn creates an environment that unleashes people’s talents. Those talents will take the nation forward.”

Professor Cox points to those he ranks as great WA leaders – former Department of Resources and Development chief Des Kelly, UWA chancellor and former commissioner of Main Roads Ken Michaels and National Bank chairman and former Woodside boss Charles Allen.

“They all had vision and set an example through appropriate ethical behaviours. They coached and encouraged their staff and created a climate for success,” Professor Cox said.

“Leaders have the capacity to set a vision that engages their employees.

“It brings their organisation a competitive advantage over those that are just looking at the present and forget the future.”

Professor Cox could be considered a leader, given the way he steered the East Perth Redevelopment Authority from its early days through to near fruition. He was also responsible for the Subiaco Redevelopment Authority and the restructure of the old Department of Conservation and Land Management.

While he is probably best known for those roles, he ranks his six years as head of the WA Water Authority as his most high profile placement.

Professor Cox said the emphasis in the past had been on good management rather than good leadership.

“Good management practices are important and are required at all phases of the economic cycle,” he said.

“But good leadership is equally important and is also required at all phases of the economic cycle.

“But there is a lot of evidence that shows that not all good leaders are good managers and not all good managers are good leaders.”

Professor Cox believes educators, particularly universities, have roles to play in the development of leadership.

“At an undergraduate level we provide the base level of training needed for the student’s field of endeavour,” he said.

“But in the post graduate stages we can recognise talent and work with it,” he said.

“Within our Master of Business Administration and Executive Certificate course we have a number of units focussing on leadership. We also do a number of courses specifically for companies and government agencies focusing on leadership.”

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