Excellence in public sector leadership

Crawford School of Public Policy | Executive course
Public Sector Leadership for Senior Executives
Skills for Future Leaders


This award winning* course has been specially developed for public sector executives and leaders interested in achieving leadership excellence through their role. As a participant it will provide an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself, others, and how we can work together with shared purpose. The process will have us each reflecting on what is important personally and professionally and how we can more effectively move towards what is valued in the long run.

You will be introduced to a suite of simple, yet powerful, tools for exercising psychological flexibility, taking strategic choices for action toward things that fundamentally matter and achieving results with and through people now and into the future. Such personal responsiveness has been shown to significantly enhance work engagement, communication, stress management, learning and information processing, emotional intelligence, executive functioning, cognitive style, and physical and mental wellbeing. Australian Public Service Employee Census data has shown significant, positive and sustained improvement along several institutional performance dimensions when leaders with their teams have implemented these tools, including: employee engagement; inclusion & diversity; wellbeing; leadership; workplace culture; workplace conditions; performance management; organisational change; innovation; risk management; APS Values & Code of Conduct; and, Agency specific performance. The aim is for intentional and positive change within your own life, close relationships, work with others, and your future.

*Winner of the 2018 Workplace Excellence Awards in the category of Performance and Capability Development.

Course overview

Broadly, there will be three structured reflections and conversations that will occur over the two-day workshop (or phased intervention). The program includes:

Cultivating moral self-determination

This is a very personal and transformative reflection that will have you take perspective on your own efforts to live in line with what is intrinsically important and actively move towards what is valued. You will learn how to exercise psychological flexibility, defined as “contacting the present moment as a conscious human being, fully and without needless defense – as it is and not as what it ‘says’ it is – and (depending on what the situation affords) persisting with or changing a behaviour in the service of chosen values” (Bond et al., 2011). As a leader you will be invited to reflect on your personal efforts as a professional and citizen to live the values and virtues that are intrinsically important to you within the context of your daily life. Consequently, your capacity as an individual for self-determined intentional and positive change within your life, relationships and work should be significantly enhanced.

Taking perspective on a preferred and probable future

This session will be an active inquiry into, and consideration of, what a preferred and probable future could actually look like within your organisation and society in relation to the disciplines and practices you are engaged with. Employing Technological Roadmapping methods jointly developed by ANU and Cambridge University this process will access the wisdom in the room as those involved will reflect on what a healthy, harmonious and prosperous world could look like should it materialise within your communities and professions. The output of this inquiry will be a much clearer understanding of the prevailing trends and drivers in the system that are shaping our behaviour and our organised efforts. This will make it possible for you to identify and benchmark opportunities and innovations that will likely be the seeds of positive trans-generational and system-wide change.

Establishing a healthy normative environment that builds and maintains trust and reciprocity

Borne out of the anthropological studies of cooperative group behaviour for which Ruth Elinor-Ostrom was awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, this process will have you consider the principles of good citizenship and what it takes to put in place the formal and cultural normative requirements for effective inter-related team work over extended periods and distances to achieve success. Together we will reflect on how we can best guide and support our team, our organisation and the various community groups we are a part of to more effectively employ the set of principles and consequently cultivate effective, trusting and collaborative working relationships. This discussion will also touch on how your organisation can more successfully interface and interact with the society it is a part of. With this framework you will be further equipped to cultivate a healthier team and organisational culture and more successfully implement collective best-practice at every level in the system.


Overall, this course/intervention will build your capacity for values directed action. You will cultivate the ability to think strategically about future changing contexts and contribute professionally to establishing the necessary ongoing cooperative and productive cultures capable of bringing about desired change. You will learn to foster the necessary support for people to successfully and healthily engage with life at work.


To prepare for our time together you are invited to contemplate the list of questions below and come to the workshop prepared to discuss your reflections.

  • What is most important to you personally now and in the long-run? What is the contribution you want to make?
  • Review an episode where you have been profoundly and importantly influenced by another which has led to great outcomes. What were the characteristics of that relationship?
  • Contemplate an area of interest, the nature of an enterprise you really want to be a part of in order to make a difference in the long run. What are the characteristics of that enterprise?
  • What adaptive challenges is the group facing now and in the future?

Course presenter(s)

Dr Robert Styles

Dr Styles is an academic at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. As a Contextual Behavioural Scientist, his applied work has been a study of how language and cognition functions to influence psychological and social wellbeing, particularly the enhancement of team and institutional productivity, collaboration and performance. This work has been part of an international initiative stemming out of the University of Nevada and The Evolution Institute, Florida, aimed at applying evolutionary and behavioural principles to solving real-world problems.

Within ANU, the ongoing application of Dr Styles’ research is at the operational nexus of a number of different disciplines including applied behavioural psychology, organisational and cultural sociology, evolutionary science, and systems engineering. Currently this work is being applied in Australia, SW Asia, Africa and the Pacific within corporations and public-sector agencies striving to improve strategic and behavioural approaches to human capital development. Particular areas of impact include food, water and energy security, gender equity and social inclusion realised through the sustainability of individual and collective endeavours.

Over the last decade Dr Styles has advised and mentored over 300 top executives and leaders and consulted to a range of clients including: the Australian Public Service Commission, NSW Health, Australian National University, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Australia Federal Police, NTU Executive MBA Singapore, Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Bhutan Electricity Authority & Senior Government Officials and the China Ministry of Education. Between 2008 and 2012 he was a principal leadership consultant for the APSC-DFAT Leading Australia‘s Future in Asia-Pacific (LAFIA) SES training program; he led the design of the SES leadership development suite of programs implemented by the APSC from 2011-12; and, he designed, lead and researched the impact of an approach to applied behavioural psychology with systems engineering within the Museum of Australian Democracy and Australian Government Department of Finance between 2014 to 2017.

Updated:  25 October 2021/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team