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  • Writer's pictureMaxime Fern & Michael Johnstone

Turbulent times call for brave new leadership

Recent years have seen market turbulence emerge as the new normal, as leaders navigate companies through disruptive local, national and global events ranging from floods and bushfires to the pandemic, border closures, trade disputes and war in Ukraine.

Around a third of employing businesses in Australia are struggling to find suitable staff, nearly half face increased operating expenses and 41 per cent are experiencing supply chain disruptions, according to the latest Business Conditions and Sentiments report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In their new book Provocation as Leadership, Australian leadership consultants Maxime Fern and Dr Michael Johnstone argue that turbulent times call for adaptive leaders who can mobilise people in their organisation, bringing out the best in them.

“In a time filled with unpredictable trends that can hugely impact business, the best leaders are those who can manage the tension between preparing their business for tomorrow, next year and in five years, and who can work with uncertainty, navigating and responding to what is emerging, not what is,” says Johnstone.

Fern says that it’s important to distinguish between management – looking after people and tasks, profits and the bottom line – and leadership, which is adapting to change and mobilising collective action to achieve a goal.

“It is relatively easy to get that technical, management expertise – and far more difficult to find people with a high EQ [emotional intelligence] and a multi-layered view of systemic thinking from the individual right up to the international context,” says Fern.

Johnstone cites a 2020 McKinsey survey of decision making by organisations at the onset of COVID-19 which found that while three in four executives believed the pandemic introduced big opportunities for growth, less than a third were prepared to do anything about it.

“Typically, most companies will hunker down during uncertainty, continuing to do what they know best,” he says. “Those that survive and thrive are the ones asking hard questions about which parts of their business to carry forward, and what to let go so they have the resources to focus on future-performing products and customers.”


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