Every organisational psychology text speaks of the importance of having stable and decisive leadership for an business to work at its optimum level of performance. Legendary sporting coach Jack Gibson, used to speak at length about the fact that you could never have a successful sporting team without a stable front office. Iconic investor Warren Buffett has been ever more definitive about this when investing; he simply refuses to invest in any business with unstable and ineffective leadership. With this in mind, it makes recent events in federal politics so difficult to reconcile – while Rome has been burning, who has been managing the country?

Leadership is a really unique skill to grasp and I am not sure whether anybody truly masters the act. However there are some obvious traps that any leader must avoid to be successful. These include:

  • Keep communicating. When leaders stop communicating with their teams it leaves a void and paranoia regularly set in. People start “joining the dots” with minimal information and form conclusions that are far from truthful. The void can be filled by people with motives that are less than honourable and before you know it, chaos reigns supreme and common sense is out the window. This may have happened recently in Canberra.
  • Never stop listening. A key to communication is being able to actively listen to your customers and act accordingly. When you stop listening, you lose your audience and you begin to ‘tell’ and not ‘sell’. The rushed media legislation is a prime example of this where the government did not listen to their caucus and attempted to bully legislation through without debate because they knew best. This was the real circuit breaker for the recent leadership instability.
  • Avoid outwardly losing control. Some of you will know that I am a massive Parramatta Eels tragic and this year we have appointed our best player Jarryd Hayne, as captain. It was a risk and judging by his performance recently against the Wests Tigers, it may backfire. Hayne was frustrated by the refereeing all game and engaged in a shouting match with the officials for the majority of the first half. His team followed suit and discipline (and the game) was lost. It has been noticeable recently that the pressure has started to take hold of the leadership in Canberra recently as well. Parliamentary performances that were once robust are now erratic and the tone of debate is at an all-time low. The call to “take your best shot” to the opposition after the challenge was being made internally reeked of desperation and a loss of control.

It was a very tough and reckless challenge that saw the Prime Minister once again hold a resounding victory within caucus. She can be criticised for many things however nobody could ever question her mettle. Prime Minister Gillard is undoubtedly one of the toughest, most resilient leaders I have ever witnessed. However, the victory came at a massive cost. The talent pool available for ministry positions is much smaller now due to the post challenge cull that needed to occur. The poll results will surely show an even greater fall in first preference votes which will only heighten speculation and pressure that a leadership challenge is necessary. From the outside looking in, this recent challenge will be a self-fulfilling prophecy until a change of some sort occurs – the cycle of destabilisation will lead to challenges will lead to poor poll results will lead to destabilisation and so on.

However, the major losers out of this are the general public. The day of the “challenge that wasn’t” was a remarkable day in Canberra for all the wrong reasons. The day should have been highlighted by a bi-partisan apology on behalf of the Australian government for the former policy of forced adoptions that caused so much pain and heartbreak to many Australians over successive generations. It saw two great speeches (one delivered by the Prime Minister herself) receive no coverage at all on the 24 hour news cycle who were more interested in getting short grabs from disgruntled factional players. It was sad to see this great achievement be pushed from the front pages of the paper as a result of self-indulgence and hubris.

The final “victim” of this continual leadership speculation has been the Australian economy. Uncertainty is never good for employer confidence and without confidence in policy, people are hesitant to hire. There is a real, tangible cost to what went on in Canberra and the cost is being borne by all of us. I really do hope that the Prime Minister and her government listen to the wise words of former Minister Martin Ferguson when he appealed to the government to govern for all Australians and stop enabling and facilitating a class war. If they do this, both employers and employees will feel more secure and confidence will return to the economy with speed.

I really struggled to make any sense out of the events in Canberra recently. I was embarrassed and a large part of me felt sorry for the Prime Minister. I hope that she now gets the clear air she so obviously desires so that she can get on with the job of governing. However the words of former Prime Minister Paul Keating are ringing in my ears at present: “how can they govern the country when they can’t govern themselves?” Leadership is truly a tricky act to master.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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