As 2021 draws to a close, these AICD members reflect on another year of uncertainty and upheaval, but anticipate brighter times ahead.
As told to Narelle Hooper MAICD and Jessica Mudditt
Barbara Jones MAICD (pictured above)
The principal of Executive Mandala says leaders need to reframe their roles to be more effective in the new normality.
Planes back in the sky, traffic on the roads, people having picnics in parks, kids back at school. It looks to be mostly “normal” again after almost two years of stop, start, stop in just about all areas of life. What a time it’s been for us all.
The big question on the minds of business leaders across the country, across the world, has been what’s next? What will facing this uncertainty and complexity mean for leaders who are charged with steering corporations and the people in them? There will be a need for a very different kind of leadership, at least initially, as these many elements of the fallout from COVID-19 are confronted.
Leaders naturally have a lot to think about as this new world of work comes into view. The mastery of leadership has always required effort being put into developing and strengthening both the relationship and task elements of the role, and getting the balance right. However, key themes emerging in conversations with leaders identify two areas where focus will be needed — our own self-awareness as leaders and our leadership of others.
Leading in this context is going to require a high degree of psychological insight by leaders. For executives to develop this as a core strength is the key to expanded development and success — and sustainability. Building this proficiency is a critical feature for gaining the perspicacity that is the foundation upon which deep and sustainable change can occur. This forms the bedrock for psychological resilience.
Developing this insight will enable leaders to build the individual development strategies necessary to achieve long-lasting, highly effective leadership behaviour. This in turn will support their ongoing ability to support their workforces now and in the future.
In this more blended work platform, a leader’s ability to build trust across the workforce will be just as important as it ever has been, yet more challenging to achieve and sustain. Reliability, openness, and congruence are the rudiments that make up trust and are fundamental to achieving the primary and secondary goals of business. In the uncertain context of these past two years, some trust has been fractured, not just in business, but in broader national and international realms.
The ongoing sustaining of trust is an everyday thing, and along with getting that balance in leadership mastery right — between getting the operational task done and keeping all key stakeholder relationships from falling — leading with empathy will be beneficial. Empathy is one precursor to behaviour that is beneficial to others. We’ve often paid lip service to pro-social behaviour and some get it right, some don’t. Artificial empathy won’t do it, either. Authenticity is vital.
There have always been questions about if, how, and should this capability be built. Caring connection, in some quarters, has a reputation of being on the “too soft” side of leadership. There are also questions as to whether it’s more easily achieved in men or women. Generally speaking, being a caring leader can simply mean people feel supported in their presence because they are open to high-quality, trusting relationships. Vulnerability also plays a part. They admit their mistakes and confront others supportively.
Part of that good leadership will be the ability to flex and adapt to what’s in front of us, be it pandemic, cybersecurity, correction in equity markets or just everyday ups and downs. When executives can regulate their emotions, build and strengthen their mental capacity and make long-lasting changes to how they operate in this high-pressure, complex world, the ripple effect will be wholly felt.
Dan Bourchier GAICD
Becoming the chair of BlakDance, the national industry organisation for First Nations contemporary dancers and choreographers was an enormous learning curve for Dan Bourchier GAICD — especially since it happened in April, during the COVID-19 lockdown. He had been acting chair for a few months prior to that and describes his transition with the previous chair as an important way of continuing the sharing of knowledge throughout the organisation.
“It was almost a mentoring relationship and it was really important to have those conversations, especially during such a challenging period,” says Bourchier. “Knowledge-sharing is not something we typically do well in Australian corporate governance, but it’s nothing radical in terms of Indigenous culture. It has always been this way in terms of seeking the guidance and understanding of our elders.
“I was struck by the resilience of the team at BlakDance, who showed an incredible ability to adapt and divert attention to different areas. There was often jarring, abrupt change when we went into lockdowns — productions stopped midway and a lot of work in pre-production could simply not go on. Equally, in some instances, we came out of lockdown quite sharply.
“We tried to pivot towards developing more junior members of the team. This gave them a sense of workplace security and they could continue to learn about storytelling through dance and performance.
“I’ve learned how important it is for the chair to be someone who listens and helps the group as a whole formulate a pathway forward. It’s about giving permission to your entire team to have a voice and speak up. With so much of our work stopping abruptly, it gave me the chance to look inwardly at our governance structures. I’ve thought deeply about how we do things, why we do things —whether that is in the best interest of our organisation and, ultimately, our strategic ambitions.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the resilience comes out in storytelling and artistic expression. The arts have become even more precious to us as a society, and it’s something that we have to protect. To that end, I’d encourage governments of every persuasion at every level to invest in the arts and build relationships, particularly with First Nations artists.”
Jane Diplock AO FAICD (pictured above) and Associate Professor Vinay Lakra GAICD
The chair of the Abu Dhabi Global Market Regulatory Committee and member of the Value Reporting Foundation welcomes a new era of global sustainability reporting, while the president of the Royal Australian and NZ College of Psychiatrists acknowledges the importance of pulling together in a crisis.
Over the past decade, Jane Diplock AO FAICD has worked in capital markets and regulation — as company director and regulator.
“Perhaps COP26 has something to do with this, but somewhere in the past year, I’ve seen a tipping point in public awareness,” says Diplock. “The balance of financial and non-financial elements in a company’s business model has flipped. It used to be you’d have 80 per cent in your financial reporting and perhaps 20 per cent in your intangibles, including branding and sustainability. However, the tech giants and companies such as Tesla have business models that no longer look at the traditional business models of extraction. They’ve also developed a number of ways of reporting, measuring and aggregating data.”
On 4 November, at COP26, it was announced that an International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) would be created, which will develop a comprehensive global baseline of high-quality sustainability disclosure standards. The ISSB is a consolidation of sustainability standard setters, including the Carbon Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and the Value Reporting Foundation (VRF) with the IFRS Foundation. The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation will complete this consolidation by June 2022.
“It is the most remarkable change I’ve seen,” says Diplock. “This landmark decision heralds a new era in global corporate reporting and will answer the call from many around the world for greater consolidation of sustainability standard setters and simplification of the sustainability reporting ecosystem.”
Her address at COP26 covered a project she is involved in concerning the digitisation of and interoperability of sustainability data. “There are a plethora of standard setters and some have taxonomies which enable them to be machine readable, but they are not interoperable,” she explains. “It is increasingly important that the creation of data, its use within companies and the external reporting become comparable, so taxonomies can speak to each other. This will enable comparisons of companies to be made by investors, consumers, communities, regulators and other stakeholders. I’ve been working with a group to create something like a 21st-century tech-based Rosetta Stone — with an intelligent digital dictionary and consistent definitions. We’ve done the proof of concept and it is feasible. Right now, we’re getting together a group of the best technology experts in the world to put all these pieces together.”
For Associate Professor Vinay Lakra GAICD, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and a member of the Victorian Board of the Medical Board of Australia, it was all about pulling together to get things done.
“It was the number of challenges we faced and the opportunities that accompanied those challenges that resonated for me,” he says. “When the pandemic started, one problem was around continuing provision of healthcare services. The demand for psychiatric services went up significantly — for Medicare-based services, it was an increase of almost 10 per cent. Demand in the public services through the emergency department fluctuated depending on lockdown severity.
“We worked closely with the Department of Health to roll out telehealth. If we had done this in a planned manner, it would have taken years to deliver. There is something about a crisis that makes people do things differently. We moved at a much more rapid pace, without worrying about what could go wrong.
“The crisis has identified that everything we do is interconnected and because of that, we need to take everyone forward together. Unless we all get out of the pandemic, we can’t get out of it.”
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