The Leading Partnership News

Governance as leadership

posted 12 Jan 2020, 20:01 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 19 Jan 2020, 18:17 ]

“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” (Mike Tyson, boxer)

Several years ago, governance expert Bob Garratt published a book called “The fish rots from the head”, the colourful title having its origin in a Chinese proverb. The contents focussed on the role of the board of directors in company failures, misdemeanours and other poor corporate behaviour. I am not sure if it is anatomically correct to say that fish rot from the head, but the stark image reminds us of the importance of the head, particularly for humankind. The head is the site of the brain and therefore of thinking, reason and as we now know, the emotions – although the latter were once seen, incorrectly, as the province of the heart. If the body, that is, the company, is dead or dying, Garratt’s reasoning went, the head, that is, the board, was rotting first. Drawing on the Mike Tyson quote above, it is the board that should be foreseeing and planning for any metaphorical “punches in the mouth” that come the company’s way. Boards should provide leadership for the entities they oversee. But how does the board lead in such a way that it does not interfere, compete with or undermine management? There are no hard and fast rules to dividing up leadership roles between the board and management except to say that at any particular point in time, roles should be clear and documented. What follows are suggestions as to the areas of leadership that boards should acknowledge and pay particular attention to.

A. The board as the head

Experienced directors will be aware that under corporations’ law the board can delegate virtually any task to management, but it cannot delegate ultimate responsibility for the entity. The board of directors is the collective head, the overall leader of the company, a reality that all boards should embrace. This is why Garratt’s “rotting from the head” analogy rings true in concept whether or not that is what happens in nature. Even if management is the source of the “rot” (whatever the rot may be), it is the board that appoints management, then oversees and monitors their actions. The board may not be directly at fault for a major failure, but responsibility is a higher concept than fault. A board is responsible whether or not it is at fault. This is the reason why shareholders often vote to remove directors when things go seriously wrong in an enterprise. So, if the board is the head, the leader of the company, how does it exercise its leadership in such a way that it does not interfere with the role of the management team?

B. The board as the holder of the long-term vision for the enterprise

CEOs come and go but the board remains. Some would argue that directors also come and go – which is true – but only on rare occasions does each and every director get sacked or resign at the same time. It is therefore the board that should turn its attention to profitability, sustainability and other key areas over the longer term. In view of that reality, the directors should, develop an own a vision for the future of the enterprise that goes beyond that of the current CEO and her or his leadership team. In my view, that vision should be at least 10 years into the future.

Over the years a number of boards have commented to me that they were pleased with their CEO but that the board tended to respond to the CEO’s proposals in the absence of itself having agreed a vision beyond management’s typically 3-5-year horizon. These boards felt that management was de facto controlling the strategic agenda. In most cases, management was only controlling the strategic agenda because the board did not have its own documented view on the company’s long-range focus.

In 2013 the Chairman of BHP Billiton, Jac Nasser, wrote:

"In late 2010…the BHP board asked and debated this question: ‘If we had to choose three areas to put extra emphasis and time on, what would they be?’ 

The answer was people development, capital management and reputation. Under each of these categories we had further goals and decided that each that every year we would go back and stress-test if those were the right strategic imperatives for the and whether the action items underneath those goals were being met or needed to change from year to year.

I don’t think many boards do that type of self-reflection consciously. They may end up doing it around an event. But BHP feel that, just like it was important for the company to have strategic objectives, the board needed to have a similar framework." (Company Director Journal, May 2013)

It is interesting to note that Nasser believed that the BHP board needed to have its own strategic framework. If this is the case, I would argue that such a framework must take a long-term view, longer and more strategic than that of management. In fact, management’s strategic and operational plans should sit under the board’s 10-20 year strategic vision. I have worked with a number of boards to develop a 10-year vision for their enterprise. I recommend that such a vision be succinct and articulated in no more than 1-2 pages. The board is the primary owner of the high-level 10-year vision while management is the primary owner of the more detailed and specific strategic and operational plans. The term “primary owner” is chosen deliberately to reflect the fact the two plans should be aligned. As an aside, I have generally observed that prospective CEOs are impressed with boards that have a long-term vision, even if they do not agree with every aspect of what is articulated.

In summary, one of the most important leadership roles for the board is to ensure that they have vision for the enterprise that looks well past the term of the current CEO.

C. The board as the holder of the company culture and values

If the idea of the board owning the 10-20-year vision for the company is somewhat controversial, the role of the board in setting and monitoring company culture and values is perhaps more so. The discussion of the board’s role in culture and values is fairly recent in Australia and has its roots to some degree, I believe, in the outcomes of the sexual abuse and financial services Royal Commissions as well as the spate of high-profile corporate collapses of the last two decades. The final reports by the respective banking and sexual abuse Royal Commissions drew attention to real failings in the leadership of boards and governance bodies. There were examples relayed in excruciating details of situations where bad news did not “travel fast” to the board; where boards did not act or act decisively to right wrongs or drive necessary change and where directors failed intervene when management was behaving inappropriately or even illegally. Sadly, we can expect the current Royal Commissions into aged and disability care to deliver similar reports cards of governance and management failure. It is now regularly argued in governance circles that nurturing a strong company culture that emphasises fairness, compliance, accountability and transparency alongside high performance and profitability, plays a powerful role in regulating staff activities and articulating the desired positive behaviours organisations expect of their employees. The Banking Royal Commissioner, Justice Hayne, for example, did not call for new laws to keep rampant bankers in check, but for the enforcement of existing legal frameworks both by regulators and by boards. That is, a culture of accountability and compliance.

Just how boards go about setting culture and values, then monitoring adherence, is a work in progress. But the board as governors have a growing leadership role to play in the area of enterprise culture.

D. The board as exemplars of desired leadership behaviours

I have been a member of, consulted to and witnessed, many fine boards populated with directors of high ethical and professional standards and exemplary ability. I have also been privy to examples of the opposite. I’ve observed some directors and boards undermine, berate and even publicly humiliate management and express contempt for customers. I’ve heard some directors complain to each other in private about their CEO’s performance then award the individual concerned the highest possible performance review. In one case I had direct contact with, a CEO was sacked for poor results just two months after being formally rated 5/5 by the board! I have even seen directors at war with each other in board meetings demand that the executive team collaborate more effectively – these individuals were obviously fans of the “do what I say, not what I do” approach to leadership. These are clear examples of the fish rotting from the head. As directors, our role includes that of leadership exemplars to management, customers or those we serve in the broader community. As the former head of the Australian armed forces once said, “the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept”.

Directors are not called to be perfect, but we are called to articulate and model the kind of leadership we wish to see as the norm, particularly if we’ve played a role in setting vision, culture and values in the first place.

Philip Pogson FAICD, January 2020.

Philip has been a company director, Chair and business owner for more than 20 years. He consults and advises on strategy and governance across a range of business sectors.


To Your Very Good Health

posted 8 Dec 2019, 18:44 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 8 Dec 2019, 18:50 ]

The state of the nation

Why am I writing about health? I have consulted in and around health for some 20 years and have a deep interest in, and have a relatively well-informed perspective on, human health and the broader health sector. One could say that health is both a professional interest and a personal passion. But health is not just a dominant sector of the economy nor is good health an end in itself. For example, a healthy nation is more economically productive on the one hand, and its population better able to participate in, and contribute to, important cultural and community activities, on the other. I also wanted to draw attention to the fact that despite Australia spending some 10% of its GDP on health, many citizens miss out on access to health services when and where they need them. Whole sections of our community suffer chronic ill health and die younger than they should, facts often directly related to where they live, how much they earn and their race. The benefits of the Australian health system are spread in an inequal way. This should not be considered an acceptable outcome.

It not only about the money – but we spend a lot

Australia spends a great deal of money on health. In 2017–18 total health spending was $185.4 billion, equating to $7,485 per person. $74B was spent on hospitals while two thirds of the total $s was funded by Federal and State governments. Millions, perhaps billions more is expended on vitamins, supplements and alternate treatment modalities. The good news is that Australia consistently ranks in the top 30% of OECD countries by key measures of health outcomes such as longevity.

But a healthy expenditure on health does not equal health outcomes for the Australian population as a whole, a fact I was reminded of this week when working with the leadership team of a remote aboriginal health organisation in Central Australia.

Who misses out in the health stakes?

The most recent estimates show that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male born in 2015-2017 is likely to live to 71.6 years, about 9 years less than a non-Indigenous male (who is likely to live to 80.2 years). An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female born in 2015-2017 is likely to live to 75.6 years, which is almost 8 years less than a non-Indigenous female (who is likely to live to 83.4 years). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have 1.2 times the rate of cardiovascular disease compared to the rest of the population. Diseases such as acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD), that are preventable health problems occur almost exclusively in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. More than 90% of those suffering ARF are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons. Aboriginals in remote areas also suffer from diseases such as the eye condition trachoma which is virtually never seen in the non-Aboriginal community. (Figures from the Australian Indigenous Health Infonet)

Having an address outside a major urban area is bad for your health. Around 3 in 10 (29%, or 7 million) Australians live in rural and remote areas where they can face  a number of challenges due to geographic isolation, including difficulty accessing services. As a result, they often experience poorer health outcomes than people in Major cities. To put it bluntly, the more remote your address, the shorter your lifespan, the more likely it is that you smoke, drink to excess and don’t get early diagnosis for cancer. When you do get your cancer diagnosis you will travel further for treatment and get poorer outcomes than your city-based cousins! The statistics speak for themselves: median age of death in very remote areas is an astounding 67 years compared to 82 years in a major city. Something is not working. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)

LGBTQI and other minorities in Australia also suffer poorer health outcomes than the mainstream further reinforcing that fact that the benefits of our health care system are not equally distributed.

It there a simple cure?

Neither the diagnosis nor the cure for systemic health inequalities is simple. The causes are complex and if the solution was as easy as writing a prescription, the issues would have been addressed years ago. Systemic problems nearly always require multi-factor, system-wide solutions. In summary, I have no easy answers but my work in remote and regional Australia just prompts me to highlight the issues.

It is difficult to attract health workers to regional and remote areas, for example. Australia relies enormously on overseas trained doctors to fill positions in regional and remote areas where in some cases, they comprise the majority of specialists and general practitioners. Despite graduating more medical students than ever, Australian doctors do not want to practice in The Bush – a fact which in itself has multiple causes. Similarly, anyone who has worked in remote area health in Central Australia would have noted the large number of New Zealand nurses who swap the green grass of home for the wide brown lands of the outback! Long distances to travel to see health professionals, high levels of smoking, the expense of fresh food and vegetables and, believe it or not, lower levels of exercise, contribute to poorer health outcomes. In Aboriginal communities lower than average health has several overlays of causes but key factors include lack of access to health knowledge, cultural issues, language challenges, complex and ever-changing funding arrangements, distance, and the tendency of governments to act prior to consulting and to ignore the evidence they have often paid for. It was recently revealed that almost 20 formal reports had been commissioned into the spate of suicides and serious mental health challenges in the Kimberly region which governments appeared to ignore when grappling for solutions.


There should be no such thing as a health status quo

In closing, please, don’t settle for the health status quo, particularly if you are, like me, a city dweller. We need to remember that our health system’s benefits are not distributed equally geographically, socially or in terms of race, and nor are the outcomes. City folk are doing well out of the $185B. Finally, some of the very worst off in this scenario, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, are often marginalised socially and economically. It is not for me to speak for them, but I do have a role in ensuring where I can that their voices are heard, and their health needs addressed. We will be a better society if we lift our game.

Philip Pogson FAICD Director, The Leading Partnership

Stop waiting to be led: get on with leading! If only I had a great boss.....

posted 8 Oct 2019, 20:08 by Michelle Stewart

 “A truly great boss is hard to find, difficult to part with and impossible to forget.”


“A boss who believes in you and trusts you will make a huge difference in your career.”


If only I had a great boss!

One of the most unhelpful leadership concepts going around is the idea that there is such a thing as a perfect boss. As the real-life quotes above state (similar memes are regularly posted on LinkedIn and other forums), the Perfect Boss believes in you, trusts you and supports you. The Perfect Boss is wise, has great values, draws the best from you and invests in you. The Perfect Boss is there to catch you when you fall. Strongly implied in writings about the Perfect Boss is that we all deserve one and that when we find this man or woman we should sit at their feet for as long as we can. I have met many people over the years who are searching for the Perfect Boss. Then they find these individuals, they rave about them for a while, only to be disappointed. Undeterred, they start the search again. It’s interesting that so many people look outside of themselves for the perfect leader, an observation I will return to.

In my view much of what is written about the Perfect or Ideal Boss is wrong and unhelpful. It is based on premises that if adopted, will hinder rather than accelerate our growth as people and as leaders.

Firstly, the notion of the perfect boss is premised on an idealised view of leadership and what a leader does. The perfect human does not exist so neither does the perfect boss. It’s nice to believe that your dream boss is out there, and even more enticing to believe you deserve to report to such a person, but it’s a fantasy. Every individual you work for, or with, has flaws. Each one of us comes with strengths and weaknesses, even the greats. Winston Churchill drank too much and was a womaniser; Mother Theresa could be intransigent, myopic and overly demanding; Mahatma Gandhi treated his wife poorly; Nelson Mandela often failed as a parent. And let’s not start on the less than edifying off field behaviour of some of our sporting greats. I am not gratuitously rubbing the sheen off these and other amazing people in our lives – my own failures and flaws are myriad – I am simply pointing to the obvious fact that great leaders are great despite their often profound flaws, not because they meet some abstract leadership ideal.

Secondly, an idealised view of leadership can have the unintended consequence of creating a two-tiered view of leadership. That is, there is “Big Leadership” (Leadership with a capital ‘L’), which is the province of Presidents, Prime Ministers and Sporting Greats, of the Churchills, Gandhis and Mandelas of this world, then there is the rest of us. We don’t lead, we follow or just muddle about. Yet in reality, society only functions due to thousands of acts of “small leadership” (leadership with a lowercase ‘l’): the unpaid sports coach who guides and mentors a struggling team, the volunteer fire brigade members, the retired adult who safely shepherds children across a school crossing, the social worker who stands by an abused child, the anonymous public servant who acts to ensure a needy person gets the support they are entitled to, or the tradie who charges nothing for fixing the single parent’s faulty appliance. ‘Big L’ Leadership stands out, it changes history, starts and stops wars and pushes through nation building projects. Big Leadership demands to be noticed. But it is ‘small l’ leadership that makes our society function day to day in a humane way. Most of us, myself included, are ‘small l’ rather than ‘Big L’ leaders. Yet if we everyday leaders aimed to get just a little better at what we do week to week and month to month, not only would the world be a better place, but perhaps we would not yearn so deeply for the Perfect Boss/Politician/Business Leader…

Thirdly the search for the perfect boss encourages us to look outwardly rather than inwardly for leadership. Dee Hock, the founder of Visa Card, created a profoundly simple, non-ideological leadership model that has the capacity to revolutionise lives. Hock believed that there are four leadership tasks in descending order of importance: 1. Lead and manage yourself; 2. Lead and manage upwards (your boss, if you have one); 3. Lead and manage sideways to your peers (those of equal status but who do not report to you); and: 4. Lead and manage downward (your team).

Hock writes:

“The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self; one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words and acts.  It is a complex, never-ending, incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task.”

Leadership starts not with the perfect boss but that imperfect person that is you and me. I have come across so many people over the years who have found their life’s purpose in finding fault. They find fault in everything from their boss, to their staff, their peers, governments, society, the courts and the school system, but rarely in themselves. The hardest person in your life to lead and manage is you. Yet if you and I seek to make a positive impact on the world, it is with ourselves that we should start. Its easy to be a top-flight employee if you have a top rank boss: everything falls into place. But it’s under bad or ineffective leadership that your character grows and personal resolve firms. Paradoxically, working under poor leadership makes us adept at making positive and needed outcomes happen despite, not because of, the traits of those above us.

The final flaw in the Perfect Boss model is so obvious that I am surprised more people have not pointed it out. Simply put, millions of people do not have a formal boss – so there is no point in them waiting around for someone up the hierarchy to affirm and support them. Think of it: your local doctor, lawyer, medical specialist or surgeon is just as likely to be self-employed or be an equal partner in a practice than to report to someone further up the hierarchy; the same for plumbers, non-executive company directors, freelance web designers or the wedding photographer down the road. Small business owners are typically their own CEO/MD and, if incorporated, a director of the company through which they run their business. Personally, I have not had an employer or boss for twenty plus years. For those in the circumstances I describe, there is no such thing as working for the “boss who believes in you and trusts you (and) will make a huge difference in your career.”  This is why Dee Hock’s insight is so powerful: the place to start is not with your boss’s strengths or flaws, but with your own character, temperament, behaviours and ethics. This does not mean that business owners and the self employed do not have mentors and those they admire in their lives, its just that they cannot rely on others to tell them what to do, pay them if they don’t earn enough money that week, or to protect them when they make a mistake.

In summary, wherever you are and whoever you work for, don’t waste time waiting around the perfect boss. Conversely, if you work for someone particularly uninspiring or unethical, seriously consider biting the bullet and moving on. Whatever our circumstances, its incumbent on us all to stop waiting to be led - and get on with leading.


Books, articles and talks about leadership should be ruthlessly sorted into two piles: those that are insightful and make us think and those that don’t. The former should be put in the “go back to” pile while the latter are best trashed. Which pile this article belongs in is for the reader to decide!

Philip Pogson FAICD, Director, The Leading Partnership 

When organisations trash their own values – and why we should care

posted 3 Jul 2019, 19:32 by Michelle Stewart

Despite regularly chastising ourselves for being over governed as a nation  - no less than nine state, territory and federal jurisdictions jostle to rule Australia’s modest population of 25 million people –  our governments are seeking outsourced assistance like never before. Expenditure on management consultancy and legal firms serving the advisory needs of politicians continues to grow. To this outsourcing trend can be added the plethora of Royal Commissions tasked with shining a light onto an ever-expanding number of neglected policy swamps. In a few short years we have had royal commissions into institutional child abuse, the treatment of young people in the Northern Territory juvenile justice system and the financial system. A royal commission into aged care is currently sitting. There are regular calls for a royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin. In falling back on Royal Commissions and consultancies Australian governments are avoiding their accountability for policy formation and action on an industrial scale. How so? Because very often, governments know what needs to be done. They even possess the expert advice necessary to guide reform or change but choose not to act. It was the fictitious civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby, who once quipped words to the effect of, “My dear Prime Minister, one should never set up a royal commission unless one knows already what one wishes it to find!”

And what have our most recent Royal Commissions revealed? When distilled to their essence, the Royal Commissions into banking, child abuse and now ageing have shown that many of our most revered institutions systematically violated their own values and even the law. In some cases, they did so without a pang of conscience, while in others wrongdoing went on for years. Those charged with providing oversight such as boards, senior leaders and regulators, did not seem to notice. If they did notice, they often did not act and if they acted, they failed to act decisively. How condemning that the Banking Royal Commissioner called not for new laws to keep rampant bankers in check, but for the wholesale enforcement of existing legal frameworks! Poor oversight and a form of institutional blindness allowed systemic instances of sexual abuse to go on unchecked, chronic abusers were protected and “moved on”, young children in the Northern Territory were hooded and tied to chairs as punishment while bank customers, both living and dead, paid for services they did not receive. In aged care, we are already hearing that some of the frailest, most vulnerable people in our society are not being nursed adequately by the institutions paid to do just that.

It is not that the organisations and institutions found wanting did not have values, it is just that their values were not upheld in practice. What might be termed universal values such as respect, honesty, customer service, quality, transparency and fairness were printed up in expensive brochures and flashed across websites, yet those very same values were regularly trashed with impunity.

There is a crucial point to be stressed here.  When an organisation’s stated values are systematically breached it can only mean one thing: that other, deeper, unwritten beliefs are in place that have more power. For whatever reason, staff come to understand that the explicit, written values do not actually apply. If, for example, customer service is a corporate value, and customers regularly pay for a service they don’t receive, the deeper, the more important corporate belief in play is corporate profit, short term gain or personal reward, comes before the customer’s interests. This despite evidence that indicates that long term focus on customer interests contributes to long term profitability. Similarly, if an organisation touts openness as one of its values, and then regularly goes to great lengths to block customers and regulators from gaining access to supposed freely available data, the unspoken assumption in that institution is that staff should act to protect the reputation of the organisation at all costs. Strange that it took a royal commission into institutional child abuse to bring to light the fact that many in leadership roles in some of our most respected organisations considered the good reputation of their institution to be more important than the welfare of the children they cared for.

How do we explain the glaring discord between high-minded written values on the one hand and contradictory behaviours on the other? The great organisational thinker, Professor Ed Schein, theorised that there are at least three levels to organisational culture: a. the things we can see in action; b. that which is written down in documents; and: c. the often unconscious beliefs that sit underneath an organisation’s written or espoused values. He calls this third, deepest layer of organisational culture “underlying assumptions” or “shared beliefs”. Values and underlying assumptions are not the same thing. Underlying assumptions are typically held subconsciously. As such they are passed on quietly from staff member to staff member over years and even decades. Assumptions and shared beliefs are thus “caught” not “taught.” It is rare, for example, that a young banker is taken aside and told “It’s OK to screw over your customers, nobody pays attention to our corporate values.” It is far more likely that s/he comes to assume that customers do not matter because over time they observe that profit matters more than treating customers honestly. Put bluntly: they learn that in some circumstance it’s OK, and even rewarded, to trash company values.

The fact that humankind does not always do what is right, even when right is defined in the company values, is hardly a revelation. What should be a clarion call to us all is that as a society we have come to tolerate boards, regulators, executives and even governments ignoring and transgressing their own values on the grand scale that three, soon to be four, Royal Commissions have revealed. In banking and finance, wholesale abdication of the most basic human value of fairness has made bankers, and very many shareholders, rich. Banking and finance sector boards failed to ask probing questions of their executives or accepted evasion and half-truths as answers. The same can be said for the aged care sector where the service levels offered by corporatised providers and large not for profits fall well below the standard set in their stated values. School leaders and boards that touted honesty and integrity to their students, then abdicated those values when it came to investigating and stamping out child abuse, are equally and just as profoundly on the hook.

It is not an organisation’s published values that matter but the underlying assumptions and beliefs behind them. As I have illustrated, if the two do not align, then neither will people’s behaviour – and that is how organisational values come to be trashed. Perhaps one negative outcome of being an over-governed nation is that we’ve come to rely more on law and less on principle; more on an individual’s capacity to coin the right words and less on their personal character as evidenced in their actual behaviour.  Whatever the case, those called to the responsibility of organisational leadership, and especially to governance, need to dig deeper, observe more acutely, accept assurances less readily and act more quickly than they have in the past. Recruiting for, and rewarding, leaders with the right values AND the talent and drive to create long term successful enterprises is more important than ever. After all, we tried the alternatives and they clearly failed. Sadly, I believe we have yet to fully comprehend the impact of those failures.

Philip Pogson FAICD

Director, The Leading Partnership Pty Ltd


The Leading Partnership supports Anglicare NT

posted 20 May 2019, 16:39 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 20 May 2019, 16:44 ]

Anglicare NT’s new 2019 - 2022 Strategic plan - developed by the Anglicare NT Board and Management team with support from The Leading Partnership. The plan was developed in consultation with staff, community members and partner organisations. It outlines how Anglicare NT will continue to support and empower people across the Northern Territory, working towards social justice and a ‘full life’ for all.  For more information, visit

Ordinary virtues in an extraordinary world

posted 29 Apr 2019, 20:08 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 29 Apr 2019, 22:23 ]

Our divided world

Every where we look these days there are signs of disunity and division. As I write, less than a week has passed since the horrific bombings of Christians and tourists in Sri Lanka. A month before that New Zealand was rocked to its foundations by the mass murder of innocent Muslims in two mosques. A quick glance at social media reveals just how close to the surface discord operates in our society: men abuse and demean women, political foes hurl insults at each other, racial and other forms of vilification based on religion or sexuality appear to be the daily routine for many social media users. The old values of politeness and respect seem to have disappeared – at least on-line. So, in these fractious times, what is it that holds communities, nations and humanity together? Do we have values in common across borders, religions, social groups and races? What happened to the post World War II optimism embodied in the values of global institutions such as the UN and UNESCO?

Such weighty questions are explored in a challenging yet accessible book by Michael Ignatieff titled “The Ordinary Virtues”. Ignatieff has taught at the Kennedy School of Government, was the Leader of the Canadian Liberal Party and is now President of the Central European University. His findings, based on case studies drawn from several countries, should be of interest to everyone from governments to leadership teams, boards to families, employers and educational institutions.

Are there global values?

For those of us who grew up in the liberal west it is easy to assume that human rights such as the dignity of the individual, free speech, the rule of law and democracy are global values. But they are not. Nations such as China do not necessarily see democracy and human rights, as evidenced in the West, as a priority. Neither do some leaders in Muslim majority countries. Whatever the power of the 21st century nation state it is often dwarfed by that of multinational corporations. Large cross border companies can seem to operate outside any kind of value framework other than the profit motive. Their sophisticated supply chains tie the world together in complex webs as they shift products rapidly across the globe. But at the heart of an innocent transaction such as buying a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes can be a life of misery and low wages for the factory workers who made them.

There are mighty forces at work around us such as globalisation, the rampant growth of technology, cheap travel, religion, business, race and gender. In the face of such powerful and often conflicting drivers the world has developed two key responses, according to Ignatieff: the doctrines of human rights and international law. But as he toured the globe searching for universal values amongst the poor, in conflict zones and multicultural cities, Ignatieff concluded that global values do not exist. What he found ordinary people had in common across geographies were not the global values espoused by professional, educated elites and large Western-funded NGOs, but ordinary virtues. And values and virtues are not the same thing.


The ordinary virtues

Ordinary virtues include tolerance, forgiveness, trust and resilience. Ordinary virtues – and virtue is defined as “acquired practical skills in moral conduct and discernment” - are local, not universal. Virtues are imbibed in communities as we grow up, they are caught as much as taught. As such, virtue “favours family and friends over strangers and other citizens”. Controversially for some, Ignatieff does not see diversity, for example, as an ordinary virtue, pointing to the fact that even in the most multinational cities, national and religious groups tend to live side by side rather than co-mingle. Intermarriage, for example, has grown but not hugely so, in our multi-ethnic mega cities.

It is easy to dismiss Ignatieff’s views as conservative or reactionary. Some may dub him a racist or even worse, an academic theoretician! I don’t think any of these scenarios bear scrutiny. He would no doubt respond that he is a realist. If all politics is local, it may well be that our virtues and allegiances are local too. Be what may, the case studies he himself carries out with a team from the Carnegie Foundation are sensitive and insightful. He writes beautifully, wistfully even, as he situates himself amongst day to day citizens in a range of places from multicultural New York to the shanty towns of Brazil, South Africa and the uneasy truce that is post conflict Bosnia. He is not afraid to be confounded or perplexed as to how ordinary virtues do and don’t function under pressure - such as in rebuilding Bosnia after the mass killings of the 90s. He embraces paradox and contradiction and does not easily come to simple solutions.

What can we learn from this book?

There are no quick learnings here, no four leadership truths to be applied from 9am tomorrow. I found myself in dialogue with this book rather than easy agreement. Some things are clear, however. For example, the rule of law and equal treatment by government entities are the day to day underpinning of functioning multicultural, diverse communities. People of different backgrounds and beliefs get on better when they experience the police as trustworthy and not adversarial, the government as impartial and the courts as fair. When all of these are in place there will be some (imperfect) semblance of equality in economic and social opportunity which, in turn, lubricates social cohesion.

Ignatieff’s findings emphasise that local communities, small groups and families shape us morally and ethically as much or more than global influences. In addition, there may in fact be limits to the capacity of many of us to see, think and act globally as we are wired to the local. I am not saying this is a good thing, but it is probably a reality. Therefore, high-minded appeals to universal values will not always fall on fertile ground. Finally, ordinary virtues are not such a bad thing. I for one would be happy to live in a society that has tolerance, forgiveness, trust and resilience in abundance.

Philip Pogson FAICD 

Director, The Leading Partnership

Working the Territory – The Northern Territory, that is!

posted 6 Mar 2019, 16:31 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 6 Mar 2019, 19:14 ]

Big cities and off the beaten track

At The Leading Partnership we partner with a broad range of clients in the fields of strategy, governance and digital transformation. We enjoy the diversity of the assignments we undertake and the wonderful client relationships we’ve developed - some of which span long periods of time. Australia is a highly urbanised country. Most people live in 4 or 5 major capital cities. Although based in Sydney, over the years The Leading Partnership has undertaken several interesting projects in the Northern Territory – widely referred to as “The NT” - a challenge we enjoy. For the information of non-Australians, and to remind locals, the Territory is big, really big. Its landmass covers 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 square miles). It is sparsely populated, with a total headcount of only 250,000. The Territory has a rich, diverse and still vibrant 40,000-year history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait settlement. Approximately 25% Territorians are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

So, what have we been doing there? The answer is, quite a bit!

Large NGO - board review and strategic planning

For several years now we have been working with one of the NT’s largest human services NGOs. It must be noted that the service delivery and coordination challenges across such a vast, yet thinly populated geographical area are significant. The climate is hot and dry and in desert areas and hot, humid and tropical along the northern coast. In Arnhem Land, some communities are cut off for weeks every year during the wet season, known in the North as “The Wet”. It can be difficult to attract skilled employees and to keep staff more than 2-3 years. This results in a steady turn over of public servants of all kinds, for example, and difficulties in attracting technical, professional and trades folk across the board. Local organisations are resilient, however, and well used to adapting and changing in response to a whole range of quite unique “realities”. We conducted a facilitated board review for this organisation and have also supported them in completing their most recent 5-year strategy. We were impressed both with their commitment to equity and excellence in service of their clients, and their demonstrable commitment to strong governance and management.

AMRRIC,  “The Dog People” – a 10-year journey

Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities, known widely as “AMRRIC” or “The Dog People”, is a specialised NGO primarily funded by the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Its purpose is to deliver, and facilitate the delivery of, animal health programs, mostly involving dogs, across the NT and the broader “Top End” of Australia. Speaking broadly, the Top End can be defined as including the Kimberly, Torres Strait Islands, Northern South Australia and parts of Queensland. Head quartered in Darwin, AMRRIC partners with remote Aboriginal Communities to ensure culturally appropriate veterinary and animal health and welfare educational programs are made available in remote communities. Dogs play a special part in the lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Without veterinary care, dog, and more recently, cat populations can grow to an unmanageable size. This may result in the spread of disease and even injury to people. We have worked pro bono with AMRRIC for more than a decade supporting the board, the President and management through several strategic cycles. We have also volunteered in remote communities.

Strategic planning for a national volunteer NGO serving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples

This organisation is not headquartered in the NT but operates offices in Darwin and Alice Springs. We were asked to partner with a senior Aboriginal consultant to work with the Board and Management in developing a new strategic plan. The process was held over three days in Alice Springs and was highly consultative. On the first day, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders aged from 17 to 75 years of age flew in from around Australia to spend a day “On Country” with the organisation’s board and management. On day two, the organisation’s Ambassadors and Board held a facilitated session. On day three the board worked with us to distil what they had heard and learned from the previous two days and from the detailed environmental scan undertaken in the lead up to the event. The outcome was a bold new strategic document to guide the development of the organisation over the years to come.

Remote Aboriginal health service - planning process

There are approximately 140 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) operating across urban, regional and remote Australia. They range from large multi-functional services employing several medical practitioners and providing a wide range of services, to small services which rely on Aboriginal Health Workers and/or nurses to provide the bulk of primary care services, often with a preventive, health education focus. The services form a network, but each is autonomous and independent both of one another and of government.

In 2018 and into 2019 we were engaged to support one of the most remote Aboriginal health services in Australia in developing a new strategic plan. This service operates several accredited GP clinics as well as providing mental health, public health, palliative and aged care services across a very large geographical area. Each community is  many hours drive, largely on dirt roads, from the nearest hospital.

This assignment involved visiting several communities, broad and deep engagement with health and administrative staff, extensive data analysis and benchmarking, while working closely with the Aboriginal Council which oversees all services including health.

What we’ve learned

There is more to Australia than Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra. We have learned a great deal from our commitment to work in rural and remote areas. We feel privileged to have been a part of so many projects conducted “off the beaten track”.

Philip Pogson FAICD and Stuart Jones GAICD, Directors, The Leading Partnership

Best Wishes for the Festive Season

posted 19 Dec 2018, 16:06 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 19 Dec 2018, 16:11 ]

We are writing to wish you all the best for the end of 2018 from The Leading Partnership.  Have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, the Festive Season or just a few days off work.  (We do realise that some people work through Christmas/New Year).

As is our regular practice, we do not send cards but have made a donation to two organisations whose work we admire: Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC) and the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA).

For The Leading Partnership it has been an interesting and diverse year. We have continued to enjoy our not so new premises at Berry St North Sydney, although we seem to be surrounded by building works! We've undertaken a very wide range of projects from health IT to international banking, higher education to working with a remote Aboriginal health service. Some organisations are very large and complex while others are much smaller. We are particularly gratified at the gradual expansion of our board advice and self evaluation business. Along with paid assignments this included two pro-bono board reviews for an Aboriginal health charity as well as an NGO that provides overseas aid in the Pacific. It is always a privilege to work with our clients and to get to know them, their organisation and their business. We remain very confident about the quality and commitment of the leaders and professionals we meet and admire the younger generation of managers who are now starting to take their place across all sectors.

In closing, we hope that you have some time to relax and renew yourself with family and friends over the coming days and weeks. Our office will be closed from December 20, whilst we take our own advice.   We reopen officially on Monday 14 January. If it's urgent, just drop us an email.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Pogson, Stuart Jones and Michelle Stewart

The Leading Partnership

11 December 2018

Mentoring and coaching NFP boards: the power of helpful relationships

posted 7 Mar 2018, 16:23 by Michelle Stewart   [ updated 26 Mar 2018, 16:47 ]

The call came out of the blue.  A skilled and experienced colleague, Dr Jennie Churchill GAICD, had just taken over as Acting Executive Officer for a national NGO whose mission had a focus on animal and human welfare and safety in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.  The former, much loved Executive Officer she replaced had died suddenly in a tragic accident.  This had seen the organisation lurch towards an existential crisis.  Her job was to get the organisation back on an even keel or close it down.  To this end, a weekend board meeting had been organised at a venue outside Melbourne.  Directors would fly in from across Australia.  Would I attend and facilitate?  The work would be hard, the hours long, the pay non-existent but they’d cover my travel.

Thus, began my journey with the ungainly titled “Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities, known formally around the traps as “AMRRIC” and in the bush as “The Dog Mob”.  Over that first weekend the board and Jennie Churchill, the organisation’s only employee, came up with a set of nine principles which would underpin the future focus and direction of AMRRIC.  Jennie and I moved quickly to write a strategic and business plan.  Then, in a frantic flurry of grant writing, fundraising and relationship building that is all too familiar to mission-driven not-for-profits (NFP) and non-government organisations (NGOs), a platform for the future was established.  New staff were hired, new board members appointed, services expanded.  At this point I would normally have moved on but I stayed involved.  Several years back I was made a Life Member of AMRRIC at their international conference in Darwin.  It was one of the highpoints of my life.  Ten years on from that original crisis meeting AMRRIC receives core funding from the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and is in regular receipt of other national State and Territory project and grant funding. It has even received funding from prestigious international NGOs.  The issues it addresses, in respectful partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other stakeholders – largely dog health and welfare and the relationship between dog health and human health in remote communities – continue to be important in ways that are too complex to explain here

At every level of my being I believe deeply that NFPs and NGOs matter.  Large and small, they are a backbone of civil society.  The issues they deal with and take responsibility for are at times awe inspiring.  If you believe I am exaggerating, try setting up a safe and professional veterinary hospital once a year in a remote community in northern Australia.  Logistics rise to a high level of complexity when roads are cut off for months in the Wet, when food arrives on a barge once or twice a week, where there are no anaesthetic machines, no drugs, no veterinary nurses and no veterinarians for hundreds of kilometres! 

In general, if not in every case, NFP work is important work.  As governance professionals and experienced directors, we do well to roll up our sleeves, if we don’t already, and get in and help.  Often, the reality is that payment will be modest at best and nothing at all, in the worst scenario.  In the face of this spectacularly unattractive value proposition, my vision is to see more of governance and advisory colleagues take up the challenge of creating a long term, sustainable pro bono portfolio.  We need a growing army of committed governance experts who will “pick and stick” with NGOs and NFPs and stay the course not for weeks or months but for years. 

While avoiding the traps of Shadow Directorship – I never get involved in operational decision-making - I have now mentored several NFPs and NGOs across a range of sectors in health, human services and the arts.  Experience has led me to identify a range of areas where help is of use.

·         Support, mentoring and advice for Chairs and CEOs – The Chairs of NGOs and NFPs are typically appointed for one of two reasons.  Firstly, because they have deep expertise or interest aligned with the mission or purpose of the organisation while often lacking substantive governance skills.  Secondly, because they possess valuable leadership or other expertise not related to the mission.  Such folk then pick up sector knowledge along the way.  For the reasons outlined above, some Chairs have outside networks they can draw on in their leadership role, others don’t.  Similarly, CEOs and Executive Officers are often unable to afford high level coaching or training.  Non-judgemental, independent, confidential advice and support is invaluable.

·         Strategy and alignment – I have lost count of how many strategy and planning processes I have run for NGOs and NFPs.  I love the work and find it rewarding.  I can do it quickly.  Again, many not for profits cannot afford big end of town advisors who, even if they donate their time, sometimes miss the nuance and sensitivity required to be effective in strange and unfamiliar environs.  In addition, CEOs and staff have multiples roles in smaller organisations and even if they have the skills to run a planning process, they may not have the “bandwidth”.  Assistance is called for.

·         Compliance and board processes –the relationship between directors and management can be blurred and thus actually, or potentially, fraught, even in large NGOs.  Voluntary directors may bring passion and skill to the table but may have limited awareness of good governance process let alone company or associations’ law.  Boards often need assistance to firm up their governance processes, put in place sound practices and even conduct self-evaluations.  My firm now offers access to our on-line board self-evaluation tools free or at subsidised cost to boards we work with.  For some directors, such encounters offer their first experience with systematic, deep self-reflection on their governance role.

·         Education and development –the cost of sending even one person per year to the AICD Company Directors course is prohibitive to many organisations.  Yet there are other ways to do director education.  I often distribute short governance articles to boards, chairs and CEOs and am refreshingly surprised that they read them!  Some of the boards I mentor now hold a board self-review each year and go on to discuss an article or think piece they have all read beforehand. Even though many NFP directors are “amateur”, in that they do not have more than one or two unpaid director roles, most do not want to be amateur in their approach, a commitment I applaud.

One of my consulting mentors, a man I never met by the name of Professor Ed Schein, a long-term Professor at MIT, stated that the core principle of consulting is “Always try to be helpful”.  I have attempted to apply this maxim to my professional life both paid and unpaid.  When the intent is to be helpful, and where we are careful with boundaries and wittingly or unwittingly doing a director or manager’s role for them, it is unlikely that a mentor/coach like myself will be seen as a shadow director.  Being helpful means just that: being an asset, not a liability in any situation we find ourselves in.

There is a final, secondary outcome of more governance professionals and directors taking on long term, pro bono work with NFPs: the more volunteer directors who encounter, understand and implement good governance practice, the better governed our society will be.  Over time, this outcome could be the most valuable of all for the well-being of our nation.

Philip Pogson FAICD

Director, The Leading Partnership Pty Ltd

February 2018


Renewable Cities Conference 2017

posted 27 Jun 2017, 18:33 by Stuart Jones   [ updated 27 Jun 2017, 20:04 ]

What did we learn from Stuart's attendance at the Renewable Cities conference in June 2017? 

Our insights and takeaways from the 2 day event were -

  • Renewable energy offers cities and their constituent businesses compelling benefits over fossil fuels. Key among these are greater energy resilience through distributed generation, lower pollution (particularly of CO2), a whole new class of jobs and more stable prices for citizens. Cities committing to renewable energy will make a huge impact given that most of our population is based there.
  • Business and local government are leading the way in Australia, and leading well despite challenges inherent in the lack of alignment between levels of government. States are now supportive and playing catch up and the federal government is still resisting change. City of Adelaide and ACT Govt were standouts from the presentations. Lismore council, the City of Sydney and the Qld State Govt have also made good progress and have solid plans.
  • There is a lot of jargon to get your head around and differences are important for goal setting. 100% renewable is not the same as carbon neutral which is also referred to as 'net zero' by people in the sector. They are both important goals, but they mean different things and strategies to achieve your chosen goal will therefore differ if (when!) your business goes down this path.
  • Setting goals and targets is really important. Did you know that the ACT has a goal to be 100% renewable by 2020 and Lismore by 2023? Adelaide has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, and The Leading Partnership (that's us) by 2019 - with the help of North Sydney Council's Better Business Partnerships program? 
  • The clean energy transition is happening faster than nearly all predictive models have indicated. Renewable power is already cheaper than non-renewables and some impressively large projects are being funded on a monthly basis. The goals and targets being set by businesses and governments are within the near-term strategic time horizon.

One of the key connections with our strategy and change consulting work is that all businesses will have a role in making this transition, and it is a Board and Executive level agenda item. Moving to renewable or carbon neutral status requires planning and forethought. If you want to explore these ideas further for your business, we welcome a conversation about it. 

Stuart Jones

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