Rethink leadership

In the face of fake news and divisive politics, academic Jane Bryson asks, where does good leadership come from?

Effective leadership is key in every situation. Looking around the world it is easy to see the benefits of strong, ethical leadership and the detrimental impact poor leadership can have. But leadership is not limited to the executive board of a major corporation or the political elite—we all show leadership every day in our work and lives.

The next generation

But where does good leadership come from? And can it be taught? Good leadership, like life, requires openness, vision, informed decision making, empathy, and resilience. Think of Nelson Mandela and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden as examples. We are lucky in our work as academics, researchers, and educators to see that, yes, good leadership can be learned. We see it develop in the young people all around us every day. We’re seeing the next generation of leaders start to challenge the status quo and define what the next generation of leadership looks like.

We all have a responsibility to nurture those qualities through our everyday actions—whether you want to provide leadership in your profession, your business, the government sector, or your community. As a true capital city university, we engage in research and teaching that uniquely blends business and government perspectives. Our professors are actively engaged in leading research—including the economics of disasters, ethical leadership and restorative justice at work, discerning patterns in chaos, busting management myths, and examining tax behaviour.

Leading at work

My own research focuses on how we can facilitate human flourishing at work. There are myriads of small things we all do every day at work that provide leadership to colleagues and others we engage with. In my research, hundreds of interviews and focus groups with a huge variety of workers reveal five broad sets of opportunities commonly wanted from work:

  • work that is healthy and safe, and jobs that are secure
  • work that uses and develops our skills
  • work that recognises our skills and efforts
  • respect, communication, and supportive relationships at work
  • autonomy to do our job, participate in work decisions, and balance work, family, and personal life.

This isn’t a surprising set of themes, but it is easy for managers and employers to lose sight of these basic needs in an increasingly economically driven world. But we are not economic units, we are people. We are people interacting in diverse work and home communities in a multitude of ways. To refocus on flourishing is to exercise everyday leadership by contributing to the communities of which we are part. We each do that by enabling safety, sharing our skill, giving recognition, treating colleagues well, and not undermining autonomy. In this way leadership is a community effort and responsibility.

Growing good leaders

Leadership, then, is passed on—modelled, taught, practised, and perfected. A society or community that promotes discovery and learning, and works with the latest ideas, challenges, and reflections can develop effective future leaders. New Zealand is known around the world for the skill, trustworthiness, and ability of its leaders—this makes Wellington, the nation’s capital city, the ideal place for you to realise your leadership potential.

Jane Bryson is Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government, Victoria University of Wellington.

Established in 1897, Victoria University of Wellington is a globally recognised civic university. We are leaders in sustainability, creativity, and government, and our research intensity is ranked #1 in New Zealand (Performance-Based Research Fund, 2018).