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Do you need a university degree to be an effective leader?

The premise: up to 65,000 of Australia’s graduates – nearly a third – will be unemployed four months after they finish their tertiary studies in 2016, says the federal government. So, how useful is a degree?

THE CONSULTANT

Paul Peterson

Training consultant and facilitator.

We no longer accept that some people are born effective leaders. They might have certain attributes that help them lead in some situations, but effective leadership is highly circumstantial.

Leaders need different knowledge and skills in different situations. Leaders can’t change their personality on demand, but they can change their behaviours – and that requires learned skills.

This doesn’t mean that effective leaders need a university degree. Learning to be a leader is not a simple academic undertaking, it’s a lifelong process that benefits from guidance and structure. It is, however, what we do with that learning that determines whether we become an effective leader.

THE MANAGER

Debra Eckersley

Managing partner – human capital, PricewaterhouseCoopers

I’ve often thought that, especially in Australia, we over-rely on secondary and tertiary results as a measure of intelligence and of fitness for a job. Too much focus on one dominant learning pathway leads to cookie-cutter hires.

We often joke about looking for “unicorns” – people skilled in every aspect of management, great with business and technology skills, global acumen, as well as socialising and relationship-building. However, individuals with unconventional pathways to learning or academic backgrounds that cross disciplines are more and more attractive to us at PwC because diverse experiences lead to new and different ways of thinking. Businesses with diverse workforces have been shown to perform better.

THE PROFESSOR

Associate Professor Antoine Hermens

Head of management discipline group, UTS Business School

You don’t need a university degree to be an effective leader, but it certainly helps. Leadership needs to be strategic and this means you need to have the ability to adapt your leadership style to suit a situation. Too much navel-gazing goes on by leaders within organisations and they’re not aware of other leadership styles that may suit their team.

Part of leadership is about networking and observing other people interacting. For someone who has been exposed to a university education, part of the learning process involves interacting with people, and that requires a degree of adaptability. It provides you with a good grounding.

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