Driving leadership for the greater good.

‘We live in uncertain and volatile times,’ says Swinburne Chancellor, Professor John Pollaers OAM. ‘There is a general sense among Australians…that we are not well served by our leaders and institutions. Australians are yearning for leadership that serves the wider public interest.’

In times like these, leadership that serves the greater good is critical.

Recognising this challenge, alumnus Steve Graham invested to enable Swinburne academics to create the Australian Leadership Index (ALI). It’s a first-of-its-kind project that aims to create a new national dialogue about leadership in Australia and improve and increase the practice of leadership for the greater good.

Funded entirely by Graham’s philanthropy, both personally and through the Graham Foundation, the ALI measures and tracks public perceptions and expectations of leadership for the greater good in Australia. It also sheds new light on the drivers of public perceptions of leadership for the greater good in the government, public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Since September 2018, the ALI research team has surveyed 1,000 people from a representative sample of Australians four times a year.

Dr Samuel Wilson, Senior lecturer in Leadership at Swinburne

All data is made freely available to anybody who wants it – from members of the media to leaders in the government, business and not-for-profit sectors – in the hope of improving leadership for the greater good.

Graduating from engineering in 1973, Steve Graham established Bitu-mill – a successful civil and road construction company. Later on, in the late 1990s, Graham started the Boat O’Craigo winery in the Yarra Valley. Along with his wife Margaret, he is a member of the Ethel Swinburne Society for bequestors and says his approach to philanthropy is simple.

‘I don’t donate money; I invest in people and projects,’ Graham explains. This approach mirrors trends that have seen a move toward impact-driven philanthropic investment.

The ALI has already produced revealing insights. Since September 2018, when measurement began, the ALI had never recorded a positive ALI score for overall impressions of leadership for the greater good. However, perceptions changed dramatically as the COVID-19 situation evolved and institutions of all types responded to the unfolding public health crisis.

The ALI has also revealed stark differences between perceptions of the government sector and the public sectors, the former seen to serve self and vested interests and the latter seen to serve the wider public interest. Notably, in response to COVID-19, the government sector recorded its first ever positive ALI score, which indicates that most people judge governments to be showing leadership for the greater good during this time.

  • "By shining a light on leadership for the greater good, what it looks and sounds like, and how it can be improved, this pandemic may yet have a silver lining for the future."

    Dr Sam Wilson , Co-creator and leader of the Australian Leadership Index

‌Dr Sam Wilson, who co-created and now leads the Australian Leadership Index, observes that crises, such as this pandemic, crystallise a shared understanding of the common good and encourage people and institutions to pull together in a manner not typical of more ordinary times.

‘The COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily brought a wider public interest in the state of leadership to the fore, and we have seen institutions, across all sectors, respond by instigating measures to protect the greater good,’ says Dr Wilson.

‘By shining a light on leadership for the greater good, what it looks and sounds like, and how it can be improved, this pandemic may yet have a silver lining for the future,’ he says. Professor John Pollaers OAM notes frankly that discussing what good leadership looks like is ’not an easy conversation’. But researchers now know from their media analyses that Australians want to have these conversations anyway.

‘A better understanding of leadership for the greater good can only bode well for the future because as we are well aware at Swinburne, what we learn now plants the seed for even greater knowledge in the future,’ he says.

Read more about the Australian Leadership Index

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