Future Leadership Challenges – An External Perspective

A Conversation with Dave Winsborough about Future Leadership

Dave Winsborough often has insightful and fresh views on organisational leadership, I sought him out in the depths of Northland for a conversation about future leadership.  Here are a few gems from our conversation which gives an out of Wellington, perspective.

He started by saying there were some core leadership qualities which endure over time, irrespective of fashions and trends. These include integrity, competence, EQ, and sound decision-making, to name a few.

He went on to say that he did not believe expertise in technology was any more crucial now than it has ever been. There have always been major technological advances which all leaders have to understand and embrace. An ongoing and permanent task for leadership.

We then talked about some of the significant trends that were presenting some urgent demands for current and future leaders. Here are some of the ones he thought were important:

  • Leaders are going to have to deal with distributed decision-making within and outside the organisation. Gone are the days of command and control. People are demanding and expecting to be involved.  Leaders will have to learn how to lead with greater devolution and sharing of decision-making. He saw this as a major rethink of leadership approaches.
  • Work itself is undergoing a re-evaluation with people looking for greater autonomy and a deeper sense of meaning in their work. Coupled with this, transparency is increasingly highly valued. Secrets cannot be kept, authority cannot be a shield, leaders’ actions will always be wide open to scrutiny and require explanations.
  • He noted some trends which have been accentuated by COVID-19 and cannot be ignored by leaders, especially in the public sector. Above all, inequities which had not received priority for so long will manifest in employee expectations.  There are other pervasive threats, such as climate change, for which employees demand action of their employers.
  • Dave applauded the current emphasis upon diversity in workplaces, including the public service. However, he felt that there is a great need for diversity of thinking, life experience and socioeconomic background. Public sector leaders are more than ever, going to need to be surrounded by people who think very differently from them and to lead in a way which respects mindsets different from their own. 

Being out of Wellington, Dave had heard many people saying that the public service is somewhat out of touch and too self-referential. Too many people in leadership positions think the same, talk mostly to each other and some fail to get out and around Aotearoa enough.

Dave made a final comment about public servants and their leaders. There is a perception of too much submissiveness and obsequiousness towards Ministers, and too little of the Bernie Galvin forthrightness.  He asks what are, in actual reality, the strongest incentives for public servants, to serve communities, to serve managers or serve Ministers? He worries that the real incentives – to deliver outcomes – have been overwhelmed by producing inputs to an endless policy loop of advice to Ministers. 

As for being prepared for the future, Dave wondered if COVID-19 might be the moment the tide ran out and the public see which agencies forgot to pack their togs.

Shenagh Gleisner, Executive Director