Lead, follow, or get out of the way

By VICTOR PERTON | 20 October 2016

Laurie Patton talked to Victor Perton on Australian leadership.  Laurie is Executive Director of Internet Australia. He is a passionate and committed Australian who thinks deeply about the country’s place in the 21st Century, which he sees as the era of the ‘Internet of Opportunity’.

Laurie has an impressive background in media leadership, including running Channel Seven Sydney, then the largest television station in the country, a community television station that helped foster the careers of people now working in mainstream media roles, and as the principle of an award winning major events company. Laurie is a Fellow of the AICD and has held board roles at a range of both private and ASX listed companies.

Victor Perton: What are the unique qualities and features of Australian Leadership? 

Laurie Patton:  Australian leaders by and large work to the theory best expressed by Ted Turner back when he was creating CNN – “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. Although this is changing somewhat, we are more inclined to make decisions based on instinct than based on data or complex research. We think we are risk takers, but in general, we tend to do what worked last time rather than try something new.

Victor Perton: What are the unique qualities that Australians seek from their Leaders?

Laurie Patton: We’re a pretty direct lot, and we expect our leaders to be strong and effective, but we don’t necessarily expect to be consulted all that much. Our HR systems are basically designed to enforce adherence to directives, and so for most people, it’s a case of doing what they’re told. I think that this holds back companies that could be more energised and innovative.

Victor Perton: What is the finest story of Australian leadership you have experienced, delivered or observed?

Laurie Patton: My most significant commercial achievement was taking over the running of Seven Queensland, the network’s regional television network. We won the annual audience ratings for the first time and subsequently posted a record operating profit. The key to achieving this was a marketing and communications strategy that was created in collaboration with the executive team that had been there long before I arrived but arguably had been kept on a tight leash. 

Victor Perton: What is the greatest challenge facing leaders right now?

Laurie Patton: We are entering a new era in the form of the emerging digitally-enabled global economy. There is no such thing as a digital economy separate from some other economy. Everything is being affected by digital technologies. Leaders need to understand how this will affect their organisations and/or enlist the services of people who do understand. Boards need to add digital skills to the list of qualifications they seek from directors in addition to accounting, law, etc.

(Victor Perton is the founder of the Australian Leadership Project with the mission to “celebrate, understand and improve Australian leadership.”)