The Australian Leadership Paradox

The Australian Leadership Paradox
Geoff Aigner
Liz Skelton

What's wrong with Australian leadership?

Australia's leadership - particularly in politics but also in business and community - is paralysed by a culture of dissatisfaction and complaint.

Why? How did we get here? And what can we do about it?

In The Australian Leadership Paradox, Geoff Aigner and Liz Skelton argue the problem stems from a misunderstanding about what leadership really is, can or should be.

The book provides new insights into Australia’s distinct leadership culture. It exposes the inherent tensions in Australians' historical relationship with authority; interrogates our culture of mateship and egalitarianism, and challenges the narrative of a nation of Aussies battling adversity when we are actually living in 'the lucky country.'

These tensions are behind the four paradoxes of Australian leadership:

  1. The anti-authority paradox: We have a strong larrikin streak and are stridently anti-authority but we rely on its protection and support ... and we revert to whingeing and complaining when our leaders can't come up with a quick solution to the problems we expect them to fix.
  2. The equality paradox: We are proudly egalitarian, so we are uncomfortable with power, in ourselves and in others, but we increasingly rely on hierarchy to redistribute wealth and live up to our egalitarian values.
  3. The mateship paradox: Our strong culture of mateship means that competition, which is an inevitable and important contributor to innovation and progress, gets relegated to the shadows. The tall poppy syndrome gets in the way of us 'owning' and using the power we have.
  4. The adversity paradox: We have a persistent narrative of a nation of Aussies battling adversity despite enjoying an unprecedented level of national prosperity. We have a safe and stable democracy, a high standard of living, a beautiful country and relatively little cultural baggage, yet you wouldn't think it from looking at our leadership.

Does the Australian leadership paradox mean we are missing a great opportunity in Australia in the 21st century?

Drawing on their extensive experience working with hundreds of leaders from government, business and community organisations, Geoff Aigner and Liz Skelton show how it’s possible for Australian leadership to be inspiring, sustainable and effective.

There is a way forward—and it is everyone’s problem, and opportunity.

With economic security, quality of life, the privilege of distance, and free of the shackles that constrain countries like the USA and those in the European Union, Australia is ripe to lead the rest of the world in redefining power and leadership and quitting the blame game.

Praise for The Australian Leadership Paradox

'...challenge[s] our understanding of what leadership characteristics are needed in the Australian context with every page presenting new insights and possibilities ... a fascinating portrayal of how leadership is exercised in our institutions but leaves us yearning for something much better.’
– Robert Fitzgerald AM, Commissioner, Productivity Commission

‘... in the tradition of David Horne’s The Lucky Country ... this book challenges us to rise above complacency and complaint and accept that leadership and power is needed for progress.’
– Professor Geoff Gallop, former Premier of Western Australia

‘This is a reaffirming and engaging book and will be my new recommended read for people trying to understand the complexity of leadership in Australia ... there is a warmth and optimism about creating a new Australian leadership story which makes it all seem possible.’
– Wendy McCarthy AO

‘This is a must read for anyone engaged in change. The authors' experience and long term commitment to supporting leadership bounce off every page.’
– Simon Sheikh, former National Director of GetUp!

Find out more about The Australian Leadership Paradox

Publication Date: 
1 Aug 2013