The rise of leadership for the greater good
Since the last quarterly measurement of perceptions of leadership for the greater good in March 2020, there have been marked improvement in public perceptions. The overarching reason for this, of course, has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which ushered in a focus on leadership for the greater good, the likes of which we have not seen for years.
Once conspicuous by its absence, leadership for the greater good seemed ubiquitous over the last three months, and gratifyingly so in the institutions where it counts most; namely, the institutions of the government and public sectors.
This quarterly report describes the key findings from the June 2020 Australian Leadership Index. Information about the Australian Leadership Index (ALI) and full results are freely available via the ALI website and the interactive ALI data portal.
A note on the survey process
The results reported in this quarterly report reflect the views of 1,000 Australian respondents, who were surveyed in from June 1 to June 10, 2020.
Respondents are recruited via an online panel by Dynata. Recruitment is designed to ensure that the sample is nationally representative in terms of locality (i.e., States and Territories), gender and age.
Results are analysed at the overall national level, as well as at the sector (i.e., government, public, private and not-for-profit sectors) and institution-level. ALI results can be further segmented according to a range of demographic variables. More information about the survey process can be found here and the ALI data portal can be found here.
1. Perceptions of the overall state of leadership for the greater good in Australia reached positive levels for the first time ever in response to COVID-19, increasing from an ALI score of -13 in March 2020 to +8 in June 2020.
2. The government sector recorded the sharpest increases in perceptions of leadership for the greater good, increasing from -21 in March 2020 to +9 in June 2020. This increase was most apparent for the Federal government, which improved from -25 in March 2020 to +16 in June 2020.
3. The public sector grew further in public esteem as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, improving from +3 in March 2020 to +22 in June 2020. Public health institutions led the way, but public education and justice sector institutions also recorded large improvements in perceptions of their leadership.
4. The not-for-profit sector made modest improvements, recording its first ever positive ALI score (+2), caused by the rebound in perceptions of charities, which increased from +21 in March 2020 to +34 in June 2020. However, a gulf remains between public perceptions of charities and perceptions of religious institutions (-17) and trade unions (-13).
5. The private sector also made modest improvements, recording a score of -2, which is the highest ALI score ever recorded for the private sector. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) led the way, but large national businesses and multinational corporations also recorded large improvements in perceptions of their leadership.
How is the ALI calculated?
Each ALI index score is calculated in a similar way to the Net Promoter Score, which is a well-known and easily understood index ranging from -100 to 100. Each ALI score is calculated as the proportion of people who believe that a given institution shows leadership for the greater good to a ‘fairly large extent’ or an ‘extremely large extent’ minus those who believe that the institution shows leadership for the greater good to ‘some extent’ or ‘not at all’.
For example, if 18 percent of people surveyed believe that the Federal Government shows leadership for the greater good to a ‘fairly large extent’ or an ‘extremely large extent’, but 42 percent of people believe that the federal government shows leadership for the greater good ‘to some extent’ or ‘not at all’, then the Federal Government is awarded an ALI score of -24.
Interpretation of ALI scores are straightforward: positive scores indicate that an institution is perceived, on balance, as showing leadership for the greater good and negative scores indicate that, on balance, an institution is not perceived as showing leadership for the greater good.
Overall perceptions of leadership for the greater good
Since September 2018, when ALI started tracking public perceptions of leadership for the greater good in Australia, the Index had never recorded a positive ALI score for overall impressions of leadership for the greater good. In the seven quarters from September 2018 to March 2020, the overall ALI score was negative, ranging from -21 to -11.
However, public perceptions changed dramatically during the pandemic as institutions of all types responded to the public health crisis. Notably, public perceptions of overall leadership for the greater good in Australia reached positive levels for the first time ever in response to COVID-19, increasing from an ALI score of -13 in March 2020 to +8 in June 2020 (see Figure 1).
With an ALI score of +22, the public sector leads the way in terms of public perceptions of leadership for the greater good (see Figure 2). In a stunning reversal of historical trends, the government sector recorded its first ever positive ALI score, recording a score of +8 in June 2020. These scores indicate that, on balance, the public and government sectors are perceived as showing leadership for the greater good.
By contrast, the not-for-profit sector (+2) and the private sector (-2) are held in much lower public esteem. Overall, the best that can be said for these sectors presently is that they are judged to neither help nor harm the public good. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the private sector’s ALI score is a sharp improvement on how this sector has been historically perceived.
With an ALI score of +34, charitable organisations lead the way in terms of public perceptions of leadership for the greater good (see Figure 3). Public health organisations (+28) are a close second, followed by the two other institutions that comprise the ALI measure of the public sector: public education institutions (+18) and justice institutions (+18). Notably, the ALI scores for public education and justice institutions in June 2020 are significantly higher than they were in March 2020 (see Figure 4).
The most striking improvements in public perceptions of leadership for the greater good were found for government institutions. This increase was most apparent for the Federal government, which improved from -25 in March 2020 to +16 in June 2020. State governments improved from -16 in March 2020 to +6 in June 2020 and local governments improved from -23 in March 2020 to +4 in June 2020.
Among private sector institutions, perceptions of large national businesses and multinational corporations improved the most from March to June 2020. Specifically, national businesses improved from -20 in March 2020 to -5 in June 2020 and multinational corporations improved from -27 in March 2020 to -8 in June 2020.
Finally, with the notable exception of charities, the changes in public perceptions of religious institutions’ and trade unions’ leadership for the greater good were negligible. Perceptions of religious institutions improved slightly from -21 in March 2020 to -17 in June 2020 and perceptions of trade unions were largely unchanged from March 2020 (-14) to June 2020 (-13).
What sectors and institutions are measured by ALI?
The ALI comprises seventeen indices, providing high-level insights into the state of leadership for the greater good within and across sectors over time. Four sectors are measured; namely, the government, public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Each of these sectors is represented by three institutions.
The government sector comprises local and state governments, as well as the Federal Government. Included within this category are political parties (if they represent the incumbent government), and elected representatives.
The public sector is represented by public health institutions (e.g., public hospitals), public education institutions (e.g., public primary and secondary schools, TAFE, public universities) and justice institutions, which refers to those institutions that deliver legal, judicial and custodial services to the Australian community by managing courts, correctional services and justice services (e.g., the courts, the police).
The private sector is represented by small and medium enterprises (SMEs, e.g., local businesses with fewer than 200 employees, such as restaurants, services or independent stores), large national businesses (i.e., Australian businesses with over 200 employees that operate across Australia, such as Woolworths, Telstra, Harvey Norman), and multinational corporations (i.e., very large companies with thousands of employees that operate across multiple countries, including Australia (e.g., Google, Hilton, Airbus).
The not-for-profit sector is represented by charitable organisations (i.e., organisations with a mission dedicated to creating a social good), trade unions (i.e., organisations of workers in a trade, or group of trades, formed to protect and further their interests) and religious institutions (i.e., organisations whose purpose is to advance religion, which may also provide services to religious communities, such as places of worship).
A promising glimpse of leadership for the greater good
The public health threat posed by COVID-19 and the sudden absence of partisanship from the political landscape ushered in a focus on leadership for the greater good, the likes of which we haven’t seen for years.
Perhaps the most notable general development was the steep improvement in perceptions of overall leadership for the greater good—a judgement made after careful consideration is given to leadership for the greater good across a wide range of institutions across different sectors.
Since September 2018, when ALI started tracking public perceptions of leadership for the greater good in Australia, the Index had never recorded a positive ALI score for overall impressions of leadership. However, perceptions changed dramatically as the COVID-19 situation evolved and institutions of all types responded to the unfolding public health crisis.
The most striking improvements were found for public perceptions of government, in general, and the Federal Government, in particular. Public perceptions of government leadership for the greater good have remained stubbornly low since the inception of the ALI in 2018, a situation compounded by public perceptions of poor leadership during the 2019/2020 bushfire crisis.
However, what a difference (another) crisis makes. The innovation of a national cabinet that drew together Federal, State and Territory Governments, all focused on averting a major public health crisis, was appraised positively by the Australian public and perceived as demonstrating genuine concern for the wider public interest and leadership for the greater good.
Another significant finding of this survey was the esteem in which the public holds those people and institutions who are on the frontline of protecting and sustaining the public good.
In the public sector, this was exemplified by public health institutions, which were consistently perceived as demonstrating strong leadership for the greater good. In the business sector, this was exemplified by supermarkets, which were marked by their service of the public interest.
What are the prospects for leadership for the greater good?
The ALI was founded on the principle that leaders should act beyond self and vested interests to benefit the greater good, and this leadership should come from institutions across all sectors.
Unhappily, since its inception in September 2018, the ALI has painted a dim picture of the state of leadership across Australia, with the exception of a small handful of institutions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily brought the wider public interest to the fore, and institutions across all sectors have instigated measures to protect the greater good.
To be sure, crises, such as COVID-19 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.
Nevertheless, 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.
About the Australian Leadership Index
The Australian Leadership Index is a national leadership survey that provides a comprehensive picture of leadership for the greater good in Australia. Made possible by the generous support of the Graham Foundation, the Australian Leadership Index is nationally significant for a number of reasons.
It is the largest ever study of leadership for the greater good. Each quarter, the ALI surveys 1,000 people across Australia about their beliefs about leadership for the greater good by Australian organisations and institutions. The ALI also reveals how institutions in different sectors vary in terms of leadership for the greater good, as well as the drivers of these perceptions, revealing new insights into what institutional leaders can do to show leadership for the greater good. Finally, by making all ALI data freely available via the ALI data portal, the Australian Leadership Index provides the public, journalists and leaders with a powerful new tool to help bring forth the leadership Australia needs for the future Australians want.