Understanding the Australia and New Zealand Market

Building global relationships is essential to the success of today’s business. Entering new markets, expanding product offerings, and networking with new employees, suppliers and customers requires more than a cursory examination of the unfamiliar region’s culture.  In fact, going in headstrong without the knowledge and understanding of a market and its people, such as the Australasian people, is a recipe for failure. That’s one of the most important reasons I collaborated with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner to write Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand: The Five Practices That Create Great Workplaces. It was our aim to share the cultural issues leaders encounter in a region that requires a real sensitivity to our deep-seated history and the value we place on egalitarianism. We also wanted to raise awareness of the context in which successful business leaders operate and, most importantly, to offer tried and true solutions for overcoming some of the most common obstacles.


As a starting point then, as with all of Jim and Barry’s works, we began with research, surveying over 75,000 people in the workplace using the Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI®). We wanted to know how effective workers felt their leader was. And while there are some differences between Australasians and other leaders around the world, we found leadership effectiveness directly related to how frequently respondents observed their leaders engaging in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. We also identified several contextual issues that are key to the success of leaders operating in this part of the world. 


One of the most deeply imbedded contextual issues is known as the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.  Dating back to the late 1800s, the Tall Poppy Syndrome characterizes a time when leaders were seen as lording their status and power over workers. Equating status and power with superiority, leaders were despised for “putting on superior airs” and, just like the tallest flowers in the field (or tall poppies), it is part of the Australasian ethos to cut those leaders down to the same size as all the others. The worst thing a leader can do in our culture is to assert authority based on position or title. This will ensure a guaranteed loss of employee engagement and stifle any chance of being seen as a trustworthy, effective leader. Anyone who desires to lead in this region must avoid even the slightest hint of hypocrisy and, as Jim and Barry have universally found in other cultures around the world, the most effective leaders fully embrace The Five Practices. They understand that relationships matter—what we call “Mateship”. They know how to be a valuable member of the team. They foster trust and self-determination. And they learn about the aspirations of others, creating a shared vision that inspires others to achieve the extraordinary. 


The Five Practices have clearly been the catalyst for achieving greatness in Australia in the past. They also are destined to play an even more important role in helping leaders earn the right to lead in the future—the focus of an article Jim, Barry, and I recently co-authored for Human Resource Director magazine.  If you are looking for additional insight into the unique challenges—and opportunities—for leaders hoping to work and prosper in this dynamic region, I encourage you to read the full article, Have You Earned the Right to Lead in Australia?


Michael Bunting, Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, is founder and managing director of WorkSmart Australia, a leadership development consultancy, and a guest lecturer in the University of Sydney’s award-winning Executive MBA program. He collaborated with James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner to author Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand: The Five Practices That Create Great Workplaces, and can be reached at mbunting@worksmart.net.au

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