Tips for expats in leadership positions returning to Australia

In the launch of’s 2021 survey, Peter L. O’Brien, Managing Director at Russell Reynolds, offered a selection of tips for global Australians already in leadership positions, on the best practices he is seeing globally, and the conditions of a great leader.

  • Professionals must have a learning mindset. To be effective in today’s age, at the speed in which things change, leaders must be prepared to constantly learn new things, and quickly adopt new ways of operating in response to an ever changing market.
  • Leaders must be prepared to be vulnerable. They must be open to criticism, and willing to acknowledge their mistakes, and utilise them as learning experiences.
  • They must be empathetic, with an ability to not just understand the people they work with, but truly connect with them, particularly those that work on the front lines.
  • Leaders must be agile, with an ability to quickly adapt and pivot where necessary.
  • They must be able to effectively listen, and create a fellowship with the people they work with, not just in Australia but in a global context.

Establishing yourself in the Australian job market

However, for the vast majority of the Australian expats returning home, the issue is not how to be a great leader, but actually establishing oneself professionally back in Australia. To this, Peter offers some advice for getting your foot back in the door when returning home:

  • Invest a significant amount of your time into understanding the Australian market. This should be done before you actually do return home.
  • Devote 80% of your time talking directly to industry professionals. Don’t waste too much time with recruitment agencies. Get to know board directors and CEOs in Australia. This may seem intimidating at first, but most people in these positions view requests for help or advice as flattering, and are often more than happy to chat over a coffee – so just put yourself out there!
  • Do your due diligence. Don’t waste time engaging with the wrong people. The ability to effectively understand the intricacies of the market you wish to join, to identify the key people that you wish to get advice from, and to begin building a professional network that works for you is imperative.
  • Your insight into the foreign markets you once worked in will be vital for organisations in Australia looking to go global. They need you as much as you need them, so just make sure you get good at quantifying what you can bring to the table, and displaying your value.
<strong>Peter L. O'Brien</strong><br><em>Managing Director at Russell Reynolds Associates</em>
Peter L. O’Brien
Managing Director at Russell Reynolds Associates

Peter is a trusted advisor to boards and CEOs on corporate governance, board effectiveness, succession planning, executive development, and leadership search and transformation. Based in Sydney, Peter is an expert at developing highly effective leadership teams and boards in Australia and internationally.