Multiplying Factor Four: Good teachers and how to identify them

By Luke Morton, current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program.

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In my last post, What are the Characteristics of an Emerging Leader?, I made reference to three multiplying factors of personal growth, proposing that they are motivation (to take risks), reflection (on experience), and courage (of self-awareness).

I have another: good teachers.

 There are not many out there because people are suckers.* Some industries benefit tremendously from that fact. Advertising and education being two of them. But it is not the case that they are absent. One good teacher I know says that the ‘Holy Trinity of Teaching’ is as follows:

 1. Show me your students. Students get to work after salesmen have gone hoarse. So turn away from the glossy brochures and fantastic claims. Does the rubber meet the road? Did the students walk away better than before? Are they better than another teachers’ students? Was it just the talented ones who succeeded, or are they all improving together in accordance with an established method?

 2. No bullshit. Theory falls down where reality faces the other way. It should be comprehensive, but without adding unnecessary details to bridge inconsistencies—the theoretical form of Deus Ex Machina. It should not just describe reality but also explain it (i.e. form the foundation for the aforementioned method). What’s more, the teacher should be able to handle challenges from the floor either because s/he is one step ahead, or has an adaptive model that accommodates new evidence.

 3. Walk the walk. People should – in all walks of life – have skin in the game. They should practice what they preach. Why? Ethically, it means you share the risks you encourage others to take. Pedagogically, it means you learn and teach real lessons, not hypothesised lessons. What credibility would a lecturer of entrepreneurship have with you, if they had never been an entrepreneur?

 Not coincidentally, these three items align with the multiplying factors I outlined in my earlier post. Because what better example of an emerging leader is there, than a teacher?

 A teacher who walks the walk proves that they have the motivation to take risks and thus are likely to have been exposed to a few good lessons along the way. A teacher who passes the ‘sniff test’ demonstrates that they have reflected honestly on their experience of the world. A teacher who (consistently and willingly) shows off their students demonstrates the courage of self-awareness, because they offer themselves up for harsh judgement that might demand personal change.

 Keep these criteria in mind when you, potential student, seek new teachers. Do you want to be told about things or do you want to be taught how to do things? Would you like to graduate ‘an expert’ or would you prefer to graduate a practician? There is nothing inherently wrong with either approach, but there is a difference. The former makes the oyster your world. The later can make the world your oyster.

 *More generously, it can be hard to judge an expert when you yourself are not an expert. But that doesn’t excusing you from walking around believing everyone!

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Working in my beautiful mess

By Georgia Knox, graduate of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and a Business Leader Postgraduate Scholarship recipient

Georgia Knox

If you want something done, ask a busy person.

We’ve all heard that phrase. Coined by one of America’s founding fathers, the notion has been in existence for longer than Australia was deemed to be a thing. But with the fast pace and complexity of contemporary life, being “busy” has become the standard. We are all busy. As such, the modern interpretation of the phrase could be “If you want something done, ask anyone” (but I can’t see that lasting the test of time).

So being busy is no longer a differentiator. It’s what you do about it.

My MBA colleagues are some of the most time-stretched people I know. Yet each of us are making our way through the whirlwind of classes, study, networking events, assignments, exams, group assignments and social occasions while still keeping-up with LAU (life as usual). So how do we do it?

The truth is, I don’t have a comprehensive answer. I can’t package up 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or a 4 Hour Work Week for you. However, I can share that doing an MBA has made me realise that my way of managing in this crazy world is just fine and that I should not be intimidated by the noise around me. Some may have itemized spreadsheets, others a preference for tasks from which they only derive financial benefit – but if those methods of organisation are not to true to who you are then they are never going to work.

Thank goodness for this. Because I work in a mess (you can make the inference about how reflective this is of who I am). It is an interesting, challenging and exciting one… but gosh it is a big mess. And I am ok with that. You may work in a mess too. There is an onslaught of emails, calls, texts, meetings, travel, documents, readings, social events, hangovers and then when something new comes along you say “of course I would love to be involved” and figure out how you will make it all work later.

It is my eternal desire to clean up this mess that keep me going at pace, but completion of tasks and achievement of goals inevitably leads to it spreading further without containment.

Every morning I write myself a ‘to do’ list. It even has little tick boxes next to each task so that I can get a real kick out of the flick of the pen. Yet, every afternoon I look at my list and think about how useless it was and how few items have been ticked. UFDs (unanticipated flying distractions) took place such as new tasks, impromptu discussions, technological breakdowns or the good old simple tiredness that prevented me from having a nicely hand-marked page.

But I still feel as satisfied as if that page was full of ticks. Because I reprioritised according to the needs of the day – and did not keep myself restricted to a specific plan. Plans rarely hold stable in our personal lives, so how can we expect more from them in our professional ones? And, since doing the MBA I trust myself with the decisions that I make every day to manage this accordingly. This realisation is an emancipating one.

So I am not just okay with my big, beautiful mess. I am proud.

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Transforming the future of green energy

Nancy PSVBy Nancy Nguyen, Marine & Logistics Category Manager at Woodside Energy, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

“I’d rather be poor and educated than be rich and ill informed”, are values inspired by my mother who risked her own life to flee war-torn Vietnam to ensure my siblings and I had the chance to a future with limitless opportunities in Australia.

My mother grew up in a small town called Dalat, in the southern highlands of Vietnam. The high altitudes meant it was often cold and wet, requiring locals to use rudimentary energy sources such as wood or coal to cook, bathe and stay warm. I remember as a child my mother reminding me every day before she went to work to remember to prepare the rice in the rice cooker for our dinner. Some days, I would complain because I was lazy, but she would remind me to be grateful to have the convenience of a machine to cook the rice. My mother was only six years old when she made her first pot of rice on a coal stove. She would sit for hours every day fanning the coal fire to ensure the rice cooked properly. Today, many still rely on these as sole energy sources due to limited access to other clean fuel sources. Approximately 41% of world’s energy supply is still heavily reliant on coal, with the demand expected to continue to increase with population growth (International Energy Agency, 2016).

Luckily, growing up in Australia has gifted my family a high standard of living, education and amenities, which would not have been readily available if my mother remained in rural Vietnam. I am grateful for these privileges, which have driven me to seek ways to contribute to a nation that has afforded me so much opportunity.

I was awarded  the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship with  and began my MBA at the University of Sydney Business School in 2014.  From the very beginning, it has been a dynamic, challenging and all immersive experience. The MBA has pushed me to understand myself and my blind spots in order to become a more effective leader of change. It has been highly rewarding to apply what I have learnt to become the best leader, more equipped to energise and leverage the diversity of my team to build an innovative culture.

My team has become a more flexible and responsive unit, which works together to adapt to change and adopt early innovation. Together, we have successfully positioned Woodside to bring the first LNG powered marine support vessel to Australia. The innovative LNG technology is a significantly cleaner energy source than traditional diesel fuel.  LNG emits 2.5 times less greenhouse emissions compared to the coal lifecycle, and is far easier to extract, transport and store (Gas, 2016). Australia is on track to become the world’s largest producer of LNG, so it makes perfect sense to build dual-fuel capabilities for our marine fleets here.

The MBA has also helped my team shape the business’ appreciation of shared values, where business and social opportunities work hand in hand. Improving access to LNG will enable Australia to meet tighter emissions regulatory requirements agreed by 186 countries post COP21 at the UN climate change forum in 2016.

In April 2016, Woodside signed a five-year charter contract with Norwegian company Siem Offshore Australia Pty Ltd — an agreement that will deliver Australia its first LNG-powered marine support vessel in 2017.

Woodside’s new vessel will be greener — reducing vessel greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions and the reliance on imported diesel — while providing safe, reliable support to Woodside’s assets in Western Australia’s Exmouth and Pilbara regions. Woodside will continue to seek to expand the application of LNG-fueling in transportation in WA.

The UN women NC Australia MBA Scholarship and my MBA experience at the University of Sydney Business School has truly been rewarding and I’m proud to be applying my leadership skills to transform the future with clean energy for our many generations to come, this is my Future Anything!

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The Art and Craft of Business Innovation

By Associate Professor Stefan Meisiek, Director of Educational Practice in Business at the University of Sydney Business School.


Peter Drucker, maybe the most prolific management guru of the past century, saw innovation as key to corporate longevity and success. In his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship from 1985, he argued that innovation can’t be a special, discontinuous, ad hoc task of businesses, but must become a regular function of the organization. He aimed at stripping the mystery of novelty from the word innovation, to make it a routine management activity.

Companies need to innovate to survive in times of global markets, rapid technological development, hyper-connectivity, sustainability concerns, and shifting consumer preferences. But this is easier said than done. While ‘innovation”, ‘creativity’ and ‘disruption’ have become part and parcel of the public, political, and business discourse, most companies – large and small – are still over-reliant on past successes, and they often fail at turning creative endeavours into substantial competitive advantages. While the need for business innovation has increased tremendously since then, something prevents it from becoming routine. What could explain this knowing-doing gap?

Business innovation requires more than good management. This becomes obvious when we look at a common misconception. Innovation, so a common understanding, is about novel products and services. In fact, any novel product or service can be easily copied, and alone doesn’t provide a strategic advantage. Therefore, business innovation means changing the business across a number of elements: business model changes, process innovation, new organizational forms, human resources, products, services, bundles, branding, and customer engagement. And none of these elements can be dealt with in isolation. Any change leads to repercussions in the entire system. If business innovation is such a broad, underspecified endeavour, then it becomes a leadership task.

Leaders can invite and enable the forces of innovation across the organization.  They can make innovation a top priority and inspire employees to experiment and to make a difference. Leaders shape the context for innovation to happen. For example, Ed Catmul, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios talks about creating stages for experts to perform on. This metaphor signals that leading for creativity and leading creative groups means to open carefully curated spaces for innovation work. The nature of work and organization moves over to the community style indicative of Pixar.

The role of management that Drucker imagines then begins to centre around the innovation process: Idea generation, recognizing opportunities, moving innovation to market.

Combining leadership that creates the context of innovation, and applying innovation management techniques, a number of companies are able to innovate repeatedly, and in a seemingly easy fashion. In the course “leading business innovation” we will be looking into companies that have been able to strike a balance between innovation management and innovation leadership, and we will uncovers some of their secrets of contraireness.

Associate Professor Stefan Meisiek will be facilitating a new elective ‘Leading Business Innovation’ in the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program.

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Procrastination & Progress

By Paul Harkin, current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program

Paul Harkin

Wanting to improve our skills in leadership and management can feel overwhelming at times. Where do we start? When we reflect on our strengths and areas for development, we often see a shopping list of areas that we could improve on, many interconnected. Then there are the thousands of books and articles, each with solutions and contributions. Many of them valid, and many of them speaking to the myriad of areas that you want to focus on. So where do we start? With further procrastination?

These were the matters plaguing my mind as I considered returning to a formal learning environment and began looking at MBAs. They were still there when I started preparing for my first unit – Leadership Practice and Development with Mike Jenner. There was so much that was useful in what I was reading prior to my first class that I again became overwhelmed by the choice of things I could work on. Conveniently, this assault of choice could let me sit in inertia once again.

Until, that is, I realized that where I started didn’t really matter. There may be plenty who will argue that where you start matters a great deal, but to us procrastinators getting started is the key. One of the most powerful things I have been opened to in Leadership Practice and Development is that the ability to develop skill is in many ways a muscle that needs exercise. It’s not just the skill that needs practice, it’s our ability to reflect on and develop that skill that in itself is worth practicing.

As Richard Barbieri points out, there isn’t some magical, fixed internal being waiting to be unwrapped through a process of self-discovery. We are capable of evolving and growing in response to the effort we put in[1]. Management and leadership expertise is not some innate ability that just needs discovering or honing – it involves learning, and repetition, and a lot of hard work until you have mastered the skills you require.  The “skill-development-as-a-muscle-to-be-exercised” concept was an important revelation for me as it freed me up from knowing where to start – just start!

Key to this is our mindset. Carol Dweck’s work on how fixed and growth mindsets shape our ability to grow and develop is well known. An ability to view ourselves and our behaviour in the moment, as fluid and open to change, as opposed to being tethered to fixed expertise with limited opportunities for change, allows us to positively engage in self improvement[2]. This allows us to view our current practice as something that can be analysed and improved upon. It frees us up to engage with what is current for us, and not have to place it in a bigger plan of self-discovery.  And it encourages us to engage positively with feedback from others. Feedback that can support our understanding of how we land for, or are experienced by others is vital data in understanding where we want to focus our learning and how we are progressing.

Martin Luther King Jnr once said “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”. In improving who we are as leaders and managers, we may not always see the bigger picture of our development. We may regularly avoid things as a response to the enormity of choice and data. However, we are capable of change and of growth, by just practicing change and growth. And often, you won’t see the top of the staircase. And in those cases, you might need to just take the first step anyway.

[1] BARBIERI, RICHARD. Independent School. Summer2015, Vol. 74 Issue 4, p108-111.[2] DWECK, in BARBIERI, RICHARD. Independent School. Summer2015, Vol. 74 Issue 4, p108-111.

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What are the characteristics of an emerging leader?

Luke MortonBy L
uke Morton, current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program.

I have studied leadership, and been amongst leaders for the last eleven years. In that time I have learned at least one thing. People may be able to recognise a leader, but few can define leadership.

When asked, most make Aristotelian, virtue-based arguments in support of a certain list of characteristics demonstrated by effective leaders. Such an argument is but a reflection of personal ethos, influenced by cultural perspective. Historically, the Spartans and Germans have respected laconic, gruff leaders. Athenians and Americans, outspoken and charismatic leaders. The Japanese and English, cultured and educated leaders. No perspective is wrong insofar as each culture can fit that style to themselves and their circumstances.

Put culture aside.

On a mechanical level, leadership is about whether you can influence your environment rather than the other way around. Functionally, a leader transposes their personality and perspective onto those around them. History then judges them on their means and ends; virtue and success.

So then what defines an emerging leader? The question presupposes that leaders can be made as well as born. My experience tells me this is correct.

People grow. They are their experiences. But experience is not important suis generis. Two students can sit through the same lessons, and graduate with radically different levels of expertise. Similarly in business, a person can be a forty year-old master, or an eighty year-old novice. Somewhere hidden in the logic of the universe are multiplying factors.

A strong case could be made that those factors are motivation, reflection, and courage.

In this day and age it is possible to spend a life of minimal experience, wrapped in a ball of cotton wool. We have the means to make life extremely comfortable. But as necessity is the mother of invention, plenty is the mother of stagnation. Thus emerging leaders must be motivated enough to reject comfort and embrace risk. Some will be pushed by ideology, others pulled by curiosity. All that matters is they are exposed to a hard lesson once in a while.

Once taught, such lessons must be learnt. The Allegory of the Cave illustrates that one can be fooled by appearances if they do not reflect on their experience of the world. It takes a reflective philosopher to make the most of experience. A beginner’s mindset is a good place to start.

Reflection can be hindered, however, if one lacks the courage of self-awareness. Nicholas Taleb wrote that his definition of a loser ‘is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on.’

A developed leader has certain characteristics that allow them to turn their will into action. They may be born with them or they may not. They may have just one, or they may be blessed with many. It is pointless to debate which leadership traits are good to have because all leadership traits are good. Further, leadership can be circumstantial. Sometimes a community needs one trait more than another.

On the other hand, the traits of an emerging leader are individual, centered on personal growth. An emerging leader has the capacity to develop the qualities of a leader because they have the capacity to learn. They have the capacity to learn because they are not afraid of difficult lessons. And they are exposed to difficult lessons because they expose themselves to risk—only doers make mistakes. These three qualities could be re-arranged because they do not come in any particular order. They are mutually supporting.

Autocratic, democratic, charismatic. It does not matter. Leadership characteristics are related but not relevant to the question at hand. What matters to an emerging leader is that they risk failure to find success, take responsibility for their actions, and learn from their experiences. Leadership – an emergent property – will grow from these three things.

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Getting Clear on your Future Anything

Lisa TarryBy Lisa Tarry, Careers & Corporate Relations Manager MBA Programs, Management Education, at the University of Sydney Business School.

I am often asked, and I quote a recent request, “to elaborate more on the kind of companies that hire from the University of Sydney MBA Program, and how career services connect graduates to the corporate world”.

It’s an interesting question and led me to reflect on how this is not something that we consciously promote, due largely to the fact that our MBA is a part-time program which means the majority of our 2015 students are currently working, with over 66 percent having over six years experience upon joining the MBA.  On average fifty percent are working in middle – management roles (we saw an increase in senior management roles from twenty three percent in 2014 to thirty percent in 2015) and only 30 percent of all students are actively looking for new opportunities.

Our Career Management strategy is therefore very much tailored around listening to what our students want.   In terms of student aspirations after the MBA, changing industry remains the lowest priority for our 2015 students, similar to our 2014 student cohort responses, with the desire to remain with their current employer continuing to lead the way.  This could indicate improved retention strategies across corporate Australia; however, aiming to change job function within their current company, while down by three percent on 2014, is still reasonably high at twenty one percent, as reflected in our 2016 MBA Report.

When we look more deeply at where the thirty percent of actively seeking students desire to move to, consulting remains at the forefront followed closely by finance, banking and insurance and in third place not for profit.  Twenty two percent of our students are looking specifically at the start up sector, which has notably received an extra boost with government aiming to encourage entrepreneurship among job seekers, investing an additional $89 million to support those wanting to start their own businesses.  This will come into effect from December 2016 as part of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme. Tailoring a career management strategy purely to what students ‘want’ does however need to balance with what students ‘need’ but may not perhaps realise that they need.  This is why strengths based coaching underpins the personal career management plan students can opt to partake in our Personal Career Management Plan.  This plays a core part in helping an individual to reach clarity on what their ‘future anything’ might look like.

If we look historically at the last 75 years, we can see career development theories have spanned into four categories:

  1. Trait Factor – Matching personal traits to occupations-Frank Parson’s (1920’s)
  2. Developmental – Self Concept over life span-Super (1950’s)
  3. Decision – Situational or Sociological- Bandura (Self Efficacy-1970’s)
  4. Psychological – Personality types matching work environment- Holland (1980’s)

The first decade of the twenty-first century however, has seen a boom in the theory of coaching as a model of practice. All parts of the client’s life are taken into account through regular sessions and it is this philosophy that has shaped the approach taken in our MBA Career Management Program.  As Dr Marshall Goldsmith, recognised as the #1 leadership thinker in the world has observed, “leadership coaching is going through dramatic changes. Practitioners from many disciplines are crowding into the coaching space; most notable are those with a psychology background, as the discipline itself is shifting from a focus on the study of dysfunction towards a science of success.  Of the many disciplines in the sphere of leadership coaching, we consider philosophy to be greatly important. Within philosophy we find the oft-neglected topic of ethics, the science of doing good, which we believe surely ought to be a central theme in any teaching of leadership”.

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