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Rymer, CS 2008, 'Leadership in Australia - how different are we?', DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright CS Rymer 2008


Leadership is a complex social process or phenomenon that involves the interaction of leaders and staff to achieve common corporate goals. There has been significant interest in leadership research since the middle of the 20th century. American leadership theories and ideas dominate the literature. Although leadership research in Australia has been limited, the areas that have been researched point to a uniqueness of Australian leadership that may impact the applicability of American theories. Some of these unique qualities include the tall poppy syndrome, egalitarianism and some of the specific Australian cultural traits such as mateship and a fair go. However, there exists no definitive empirical evidence of unique Australian styles. This research sought answers to the question: Leadership in Australia – how different are we? To investigate leadership in Australia, grounded theory techniques were used to analyse data from 30 interviews with Australian business leaders. Grounded theory provided a structured approach to analyse large amounts of qualitative data through a rigorous coding process. The output of this coding process culminated in the development of a model of Australian leadership and an understanding of the differences between the American and Australian character. The impact that the model and character differences had on applying American leadership theories in Australia was then investigated. The coding process highlighted that leadership in Australia was constructed from four main components: communication, values and characteristics, emotional togetherness and strategic movement/change. The first three components were found to be culturally contingent and the latter two form the heart of the leadership process which should be considered a journey through change. Australians were considered different to Americans across a number of elements including: averse to a showy charismatic style, the importance of constant communications and doing this in uncomplicated ways, developing emotional bonds with staff through making people feel meaningful in their role and recognition of contribution and understanding that Australians display emotional honesty and will not hesitate to question the reasons for having to undertake a task or activity. Leadership styles in Australia have some important unique qualities and should be recognised as such by Australian leaders. American leadership theories require careful application in the Australian environment even though we are both aligned within an Anglo heritage.

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