Australia has another Prime Minister. Once upon a time, this would be huge news but I am starting to feel numb with this change. Since 2007, we have had seven Prime Ministers with four of them being defeated by challenges within their own parties prior to election. The government is in damage control yet again and the public seem tired of the continual upheaval. The events of the past week have given us all some lessons about the dangers of disunity.
- Leaders need to listen but they must have conviction: Malcolm Turnbull was consistently hamstrung by his inability to get his party to fully support his beliefs. Climate change, national energy guarantees and taxation reform were three policy areas where he was unable to get legislation through parliament and ultimately he caved to the “right” faction of his party; a faction who were still smarting about his removal of Tony Abbott as leader in 2015. The result was uncertainty and a perception of weakness and this perception certainly led to his removal recently. Perhaps Prime Minister Turnbull could have taken a leaf out of Alan Joyce’s playbook. When Joyce, as CEO of Qantas, was under massive pressure from shareholders after poor results, the union movement and a hungry section of the media, he stared down his critics, outlined a clear plan and, supported by his Chairman Lee Clifford, went about executing his plan to turn around the performance of the airline. He has certainly done this very successfully.
- Leaders must get their role “legitimately”: Prime Minister Turnbull, like Prime Minister Gillard before him, was never fully accepted as a legitimate leader because of the way he ascended to the role. The Australian public felt cheated because they did not get the opportunity to vote out either Rudd or Abbott and they turned the blame for this squarely at the feet of Turnbull and Gillard. As such, they were open to greater scrutiny and were always going to be subject to the judgement that you live by the sword and you die by the sword. In business, you often see similar occurrences when somebody is seen to have obtained a role without merit. Flawed recruitment processes, bias, nepotism and the like are often seen to lead to the wrong person being promoted into leadership roles and this leads to teams to become fractious and less effective.
- Ambition must be acknowledged and managed: Nearly every politician who enters parliament harbours desires to lead and ultimately become Prime Minister. To deny this fact would be to lie. Sadly, when politicians see their ambition not being met, they look for someone to blame. This was certainly the case for Prime Minister Turnbull and the list of back benchers and former leaders and cabinet ministers felt as though they were not being listened to. Junior ministers fell into line with this group and the agitation and gossip was soon rife and sections of the media fuelled this fire with gusto. Numbers were counted when there were no numbers to count. By-election results were a watermark to be measured against even though they were impossible to win. The ambitious group had their eyes on the prize and the momentum was so great that Prime Minister Turnbull could not stop it. Perhaps he could have looked at the Hawthorn Football Club for an example of how to manage ambition within a team. They have created a culture of generating leaders within the code and have been able to succession plan in a smooth and highly respectable manner and the club continues to be successful.
I sincerely hope that the next change of Prime Minister occurs because of a change of government as opposed to an internal coup. Australia deserves better leadership than this. We need stability and tenure to be assured that policies will be developed for the long term as opposed to appeasing the 24 hour media cycle and the weekly polls. Prime Minsters are in effect the CEO of Australia; they need time to lead their team to execute their strategy and their shareholders are the public as opposed to their fellow politicians. Revenge is a powerful motivation and it is fuelled by ego and this ego can be dangerous in any leadership role. Let’s hope that Prime Minister Morrison and all other future Prime Ministers get the opportunity to execute their plans for the good of the country as opposed to working to the drumbeat of weekly polls.
Brad McMahon – Managing Director