Facing up to the gap between leadership reality vs perception

By Nick McEwan-Hall

It’s with great interest that I’ve been reading the largest survey of leadership in Australia, the Study of Australian Leadership (SAL), and a pile of online articles relating to it.

From my perspective, these are some of the most interesting findings:

There is a gap between managers’ perceptions of their own leadership skills and the way they are viewed by their workers. 

Of particular note was that employees saw their managers as less effective at information sharing and gaining commitment than the managers saw themselves.

So basically, in these two areas, managers see themselves as being better than their employees think they are.

If you’re a leader, some questions you could ask yourself to make sense of this finding would be, “What can I do to be more effective at information sharing?” and, “What does my team expect from me when it comes to information sharing?”

84% of frontline managers believe they are effective in gaining employee commitment, while only 50% of employees agree that their manager involves them in decision making.

One of the biggest markers of great workplace culture is how involved people feel in the decision-making processes that occur. With that rating at 50% there’s plenty of room for this to be improved. Pair that with the fact that we know effectiveness and productivity go up when you involve people in decision making, and you have a really simple way to boost productivity.

Ask yourself, “How can I get the team feeling more involved in decision making?”

Workplaces that invest in a range of leadership development activities have more capable leaders with a stronger belief in their ability to do the job.

I think the most important part here is that it’s a range of activities, not just one type. Cater to your team’s strengths, communication preferences and interest areas, and that’s a recipe for capacity building in your leadership team.

The study also revealed that many workplaces invest little or nothing in leadership development.

So this, coupled with the last point, means that many companies aren’t doing anything to build the capabilities of their leaders.

But it gets more interesting…

It also found that those who do invest in leadership development often get their spending wrong.

So when you do decide to invest, make sure you do it right!

The study showed that investing in frontline leaders can be effective in improving performance through better outcomes for employees. However, recent evidence from across the Asia Pacific including Australia shows that only 10% of leadership development ‘spend’ is directed to frontline managers.

Clearly, there’s scope to have a better balance of training and development for frontline and senior leaders.

Professor Peter Gahan, Director of the Centre for Workplace Leadership, added that over the longer term, organisations needed to increase investment in leadership and ensure sufficient investment was being made at all levels, particularly frontline leaders who’ve been shown to have a real impact.

He goes on to say…

“We all need to invest in on-the-job mentoring and coaching to ensure the next generation of managers have both the basics and the experience to become great Australian leaders of tomorrow.”

So, what’s the high-level summary? Here are my top four points to take away…

  1. Do some work making sure your leaders and team members see things the same way. There’s no point in your leaders thinking they’re doing a great job if the team doesn’t. And do this by getting really clear about organisational culture, values and KPIs.
  2. Review the range of development opportunities you provide to your leaders. Make it varied and responsive to their needs. Do more of it.
  3. Invest in your frontline leaders. These people are literally at the coalface of your business, and who better to be highly skilled and capable than them?
  4. Give your leaders at all levels access to a professional coach. A coach can help your leaders remain focussed and highly productive.

If you’d like to talk about ways to improve the leadership capability across your organisation, get in touch and we can chat about a customised solution for you.


As always, I welcome your feedback and comments. Tweet me @nickmc or email nick@latitudecoaching.com.au or give me a call on 0410 582 747


Nick is a business coach and VET consultant. He works with the VET community to build leadership capacity and provide elegantly simple yet robust solutions to the complex challenges RTOs face. A regular speaker at key VET events, Nick is passionate about enabling people to be their best. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter @nickmc or email him – nick@latitudecoaching.com.au.


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