The Future of Leadership: The crisis in corporate Australia and what to do about it

According to a recent report by Six Degrees Executive, the business world in Australia is facing a leadership crisis. The type of leadership style that worked well in the past is not working as well today. 
Six Degrees Executive, an executive recruitment firm in Australia, collaborated with Evolve Research and Consulting, an independent research group, to perform research on leadership in Australia. The research found that there is a clear disconnect between the traits in current leadership and the characteristics that will define great leaders of tomorrow. Critically, the focus needs to be much stronger around team leadership whilst retaining the emphasis on personal work ethic and resilience.


This study aimed to better understand leadership in Australia. More specifically, the researchers wanted to understand the changing expectations that professionals place on their leaders.


The research team performed its study in two distinct phases.

  • Quantitative Online Survey: The first phase involved sending a survey of leadership questions to over 1,300 Australian professionals that were part of the Six Degrees Executive network. The survey participants were male, female and cross-generational; additionally, they included individuals from various levels within their organisations.
  • In-depth Interviews: The second phase involved one-on-one interviews with more than 35 executives from Australian and global organisations including: BCG, BeyondBlue, Google Australia and Australia Post. In the interviews, participants discussed the findings of the survey.


The research identified: changing expectations of professionals; problems associated with the dominant style of leadership in Australia, and; requirements for great leaders of the future. Key outcomes are summarised below.

Problems with the current style of leadership
  1. Current leaders in Australia were rated best in individual attributes (work ethic, success and resilience). More than 60% of respondents rated their leaders as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in terms of work ethic. However, they were rated poorly on team attributes (team building, communication, inclusiveness and diversified experience) that individuals reported caring about. In fact, 31% of survey respondents rated their leadership as ‘poor’ on the trait of inclusiveness. The poor performance on team attributes is a key challenge as leaders are being called to demonstrate an increased team focus, to ‘get the best out of us’, rather than ‘be better than us’. In essence, current leaders are not seen to have the team-oriented traits that people expect to see in leadership.
  2. Employees have low confidence that their workplaces are able to support the development of future leaders. In fact, four in ten respondents say their organisation is poorly prepared to develop leaders of the future. Given this sentiment is shared by senior leaders, Australian businesses are likely to face significant challenges closing the gap between current and future leadership capability.
  3. Current leaders do not champion and embrace innovation because they are fearful of change, failure, risk and inability to achieve profit goals. This is particularly problematic. The ability to encourage lateral thinking and to lead creative thinking are key capabilities for future leaders. Almost half of survey respondents believe that creativity and imagination are leadership traits that will be more important in the future. According to the authors of this report, ‘the future of leadership is soft, not hard’.
Requirements for great leaders of the future 

The researchers suggest that:

  1. Great Australian leaders must have outstanding ‘soft skills’ including the ability to communicate with influence as well as build and lead diverse teams. They should have excellent interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence – demonstrating empathy, cultural sensitivity and acceptance of diversity.
  2. Great Australian leaders must demonstrate creativity and encourage/support innovation and diversified experience. Their personal style needs to be characterised by resilience, to lead creatively through adversity. Disruptive thinking will differentiate good leaders from great leaders.
  3. Integrity and authenticity are central to the new benchmarks for great Australian leaders. Authenticity in leaders requires committing to a vision, building of trust and creating a team based on fundamental shared beliefs.


So what can Australian businesses do to respond to this crisis? This research suggests five key considerations for organisations:

  1. Firstly, seek to develop the specific leadership traits identified in this research, including authenticity and emotional intelligence. Programs should be designed and delivered with these capabilities at their core.
  2. Then embed these capabilities across the HR lifecycle – implementing new recruitment, performance management and talent development models that will help embed these traits across Australian businesses.
  3. Leaders must learn to not only accommodate, but also embrace innovation and disruptive thinking. By embracing these capabilities, organisations will create a culture that attracts and retains professionals with the characteristics that will be foundational for future success.
  4. Better engage with Millennials. Fast adoption to technology and a tendency to challenge the status quo come naturally to this generation of professionals. Workplaces should aim to identify leaders in the Millennial generation and provide them opportunities to lead. Encouraging, engaging and supporting this workforce group can begin to build a pipeline of future leaders.
  5. Lastly, and more specifically, leadership development should prioritise mentoring programs. An example suggested through the research process would be a two-way mentoring program between Millennials and senior executives where both parties can learn from each other. This research points to two-way mentoring as a key means of developing great future leaders.


For more information about this article contact Andrew Vitaliti. To read this article go to

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