The Big Issue teaches ANZSOG's Towards Strategic Leadership participants leadership values

Towards Strategic Leadership's Robbie Macpherson with The Big Issue vendor Phil
  • Published Date: 07 December 2017

Can selling The Big Issue improve your leadership ability?

That’s the thinking behind the unique ‘live case’ teaching method used as part of ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) program.

TSL is an intense two-week program designed to show public sector managers how to reach their leadership potential and to develop a reflective, strategic leadership style.

Think Towards Strategic Leadership is the right program for you? Apply now - hurry, registrations close Friday 16 March:

Each year it uses a ‘live case’ to get participants out from behind their desks and immerse them in a complex social issue.

This year, the program looked at homelessness, by getting participants to speak with agencies that work in the area and homeless people themselves.

This included helping to sell The Big Issue - a fortnightly, independent magazine that's sold on the streets by homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged people.

Vendors buy copies of the magazine for $3.50 and sell them for $7, keeping the difference.

Since its inception in Australia in 1996, more than 11 million magazines have been sold, putting $25 million into the pockets of disadvantaged Australians.


TSL co-director Robbie McPherson, who also hit the streets of Melbourne to help sell the magazines, says the live case is one of the unique aspects of TSL, and is deliberately done to get participants away from the academic and theoretical aspects of the program and engage with the real world.

“We always hope people get a number of things out of it. One of them is a deeper understanding of the specific issue we are looking at, but we also want them to understand that in almost any issue there are the same dynamics going on,” Mr McPherson said.

“Whether you are looking at homelessness, family violence or youth justice you’ll see the same dynamics, which is a lack of coordination across different silos, a lack of communication, a lack of agreed purpose. There are usually lots of people with great passion, skills and commitment but not always in alignment.”

“It’s a reminder that making progress on these issues requires a systems approach.”

The TSL program is about taking participants out of their comfort zone and getting them to analyse themselves and their organisations, as a way of improving their own leadership. 


 ANZSOG’s Professor Paul 't Hart, the other TSL co-director, said leadership is a mindset which can be taught and improved. The TSL course is designed to help participants develop habits of reflection and strategic thinking, and then integrate these habits into their everyday practices.

“These are leaders who are supposed to be ahead of the game, think long term, reframe problems and question the set ways of an organisation or a program, in ways that middle management don’t always get the opportunity for,” he said.

“So the key idea of the program is to get people from a state of running around and doing things, solving problems, into a state where they are giving themselves permission to reflect on what they are doing and have done, and open themselves up to feedback from colleagues.

Ashleigh O’Mahony, Principal Implementation Officer, NSW Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, recently shifted from the private sector into a public service leadership position, and was recommended for the program by her supervisor.

Ms O'Mahony said the live case was a great chance to listen to people with experience of homelessness and try to understand the different perspectives of people tackling the issue.

TSL Ashleigh

She said she also learned from program’s emphasis on bringing emotion and feeling into leadership.

“It’s okay to show how you feel, and who you really are to your leadership, rather than trying to fit a leadership role you might have seen in a textbook,’ she said.

“It also teaches you to slow down a little bit and think through your decisions. Make sure that you are taking the time to think strategically. You learn the importance of being present, so if you are at a meeting, you need to be AT the meeting, not sitting there thinking about your next meeting."

She said the live case, and working with the diverse group of public servants from across Australia who participate in TSL, were great experiences.

“It’s fun to get the opportunity to work with people from really mixed backgrounds. You are not only learning from the facilitators but also the people around you.”

Brian Westbrook, Deputy Director Working with Children Check, Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, said that the case study was an eye-opener and underlined the complexities of the issues that governments dealt with.

He said the course had made him rethink how he approached leadership at work.

“There’s much more reflection on yourself and what you actually think about when you are doing and saying things, and how that manifests itself in your work,” he said.

TSL big issue team phil

 TSL is a unique course due to its non-traditional methods of learning, that include the live case and hands-on experiential learning, as well as extensive individual and group-based reflection.

The TSL program is one of ANZSOG’s flagship courses, and is always oversubscribed.

Applications are now open for the 2018 TSL program.

Participants will not only share a unique experience, which will build their leadership capacity and understanding of how to influence situations, but will also provide them with a valuable network of fellow leaders.

Think Towards Strategic Leadership is the right program for you? Apply now - hurry, registrations close Friday 16 March: