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Why crises call for courageous leadership

Why crises call for courageous leadership

(Sponsored article) Courageous leadership is never more important than in challenging times, according to speakers at the opening session of Governance Institute of Australia’s National Conference.

“The economic and social backdrop is enormously important for throwing up challenges, and those people that grasp those challenges are what history records as successful, courageous leaders,” non-executive director of HSBC Bank Australia, StateSuper and the Grattan Institute, Carol Austin said.

Ms Austin said the legacies of courageous US and UK political leaders had implications for contemporary leaders but cautioned against dwelling too strongly on the past.

“I urge all of you to fashion your behaviour with an eye to the future, not by looking in a rear vision mirror,” she said.

While the past 18 months have created opportunities to lead, it’s far from the first time the world has faced a crisis.

“At these critical junctures in history, we remember those leaders who step up and transform and lead as much as we do the events that that engender them,” President and Chief Operating Officer of Diligent Corporation, Lisa Edwards said.

Leadership involves us all

Ms Austin’s call to action was aimed more broadly than the 900-plus governance professionals attending this year’s virtual conference.

“All of us have a role to play. Faced with uncertainty, it’s all too easy to do nothing. Courageous leaders seek out new information, they take advice, and they act boldly.”

It comes as we approach a major turning point that suggests a swing away from individualism towards greater emphasis on altruism. This is accompanied by rising expectations on corporate responsibility, particularly on environmental, social and governance issues.

Change requires a concerted effort by individuals, communities, industries, governments and nations, Ms Austin said, and nowhere is that more crucial than in tackling climate change.

“Any individual can do their part, but that’s not enough. All of us have to play our part, and it is easier for every individual and every individual country to step up to the plate if there is strong leadership from the biggest players, and a preparedness to holding everyone accountable,” Ms Austin said.

Passion above popularity

Strong leaders are often unpopular – they need the passion and commitment to be unswerving in the face of opinion polls, said Ms Austin.

“To many, the notion of courageous leadership conjures up images of heroic figures striding the world stage. I don’t think this could be further from the truth. Courageous leadership is really hard. It requires an enormous determination, a commitment to drive change despite entrenched opposition. It requires a preparedness to make unpopular decisions. And importantly, preparedness to fail.”

Ms Austin said courageous leaders speak up, even when it’s not what people want to hear. They consistently focus on long-term outcomes, as well as:

  • live by their values and lead by example
  • filter out the deluge of urgent distractions
  • pay their dues and contributes to the public good
  • use competition to lift their own performance.

Further information

Diligent is Platinum Sponsor of Governance Institute of Australia’s National Conference 2021.

Resources from Diligent:

Board diversity: Who’s missing at your table?

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