Australian leaders will have to change the manner in which they engage with their employees in order to ensure the country can compete in the global economy. Recent Korn Ferry Hay Group research shows that leaders at Australia’s front line are too often concerned with being ‘mates’ with employees, while leaders at the top tend to lead by example—completing critical tasks themselves rather than delegating to others. These leaders miss the opportunity to engage and inspire commitment to the company vision and provide clarity about how their employees contribute to the success of the organisation. The ability to sell this vision—as well as delegating, providing feedback and coaching employees on how to deliver the vision—increases employee engagement and in turn significantly improves organisational performance.

Australia falling behind

Focusing on organisational performance is critical as businesses in Australia and New Zealand are falling behind the rest of the world. They’re not productive, efficient or effective enough to compete in the global economy. In Australia, for example, Deutsche Bank recently cited poor earnings as one of the reasons why the country sits near the bottom of Asia-Pacific equity markets. Meanwhile one of the latest reports from the World Economic Forum shows that both countries fall short in a variety of areas, including innovation, competitiveness, and business sophistication.

Mateship in business

The Australian culture, which values egalitarianism and mateship, may have an impact on the leadership culture in many organisations. The pressure of a volatile world economy and delayering of organisations puts more pressure on leaders to deliver results, thus the focus on leading by example at the upper levels. What’s lacking, are those who establish a clear sense of direction—which we describe as the visionary leadership style. But this is easier said than done as many leaders don’t fully understand their organisation’s vision themselves.

Being a visionary leader

  • Invest time to genuinely appreciate where the organisation is headed overall, and what role your team will play;
  • Make the effort to ‘tell the story’ on a regular basis, articulate the vision for the future and how your employees contribute to the delivery of it; and
  • Give and receive feedback on how well your team and yourself are doing in achieving their goals.

Many leaders seem to struggle with the last point, especially those who value the relationship with their mate above striving for continual improvement.  However, the ability to provide useful feedback on how employees are progressing is the foundation for visionary leadership.

5 ways to develop visionary leadership:

1. Draft a written copy of your vision or goals for the team:

Even if you believe that you have a clear sense of where you want to take the team, commit it to writing. Answer, for yourself, how you and the team will know when you are being successful and identify the things that you must get right to achieve this.

2. Make it real:

A vision doesn’t need to be lofty or fancy—it should be real and meaningful to you. Translate where you want to go into the concrete goals and actions that will take you there.

3. Ask for input and feedback:

Give your team the opportunity to express concerns and feelings about the goals and functioning of the group. Listen to their concerns and perspectives, and incorporate them if you can.

4. Connect everything:

Develop a proactive reinforcement plan for you vision. Identify multiple ways by which you will continually reinforce your vision and strategy throughout the year and throughout the various interactions with your team.

5. Use feedback to reinforce your message:

Look for opportunities to catch someone doing something that helps realise the vision, and applaud them for it. When you give feedback, describe how the behaviour inhibits the team from achieving its goals. Tapping into why they come to work will help understand how to motivate them and what will make them change the way they do things to improve performance.

The future of Australian leadership lies in having a vision, creating clarity about the goals and vision of the company, then providing feedback and coaching, to ensure that we are helping employees understand how they are contributing to the company goals.