Gillard and Joyce testing their leadership mettle

by External07 Dec 2011

Alan Joyce is being held fully accountable for the grounding of the Qantas fleet. While he pockets a considerable sum, as a CEO he could earn much the same salary elsewhere, and enjoy a much quieter time of it. Instead, he decided to cop it on the chin, and is prepared to ride out the storm. Whether it was the right decision or not, he was decisive, and stuck with it. He has taken full responsibility, and that is actually quite refreshing.

How we view leaders today and the respect for leadership, corporate or political, that we showed 40 or 50 years ago, has largely dissipated. Respect for elders, and for traditional roles in the workplace and official authority, has been eroded. It has undergone generational change.

Why is that? Some leaders’ behaviour has caused a high degree of mistrust, and sometimes we’ve held leaders in such high regard that we didn’t look too closely at decisions, only to be disappointed.

We now have an instantaneous view of what success looks like. The obvious example is media sources inviting us to vote people off game shows if we dislike them. This is a product of a short attention span. Unless we very quickly see the value someone is providing us we make a decision to vote them off.

In the political universe, the relentless analysis and review of polls to gauge leaders’ “likeability” runs against the real agenda. Leaders aren’t leading to be liked; they lead to achieve the overall objective. That needs moral courage as well as a sense of purpose and clear direction.

That is a challenge today.

If it is not dumbing down, it is at the very least diluting the complexities of leadership positions. It is very easy to oversimplify the challenges and responses made each day for us. The tall poppy syndrome teaches us to criticise leaders rather than support them.

Political debate has given way to mudslinging, and has created a situation – and a national conversation – in which people feel saturated by the communication. The conversation needs to be real, and people need to engage with it. The corollary is being in touch with people and understanding not just where people want to be today but a broad brushstroke picture of the longer future.

This country doesn’t have a national goal.

It has some objectives but they tend to be simplistically bundled up in the resources sector. There is no sense of unifying national vision and how that can be connected to civil society, to the community and to individuals, and how they can step up in their own leadership and play a part in it. That will enable a bigger ‘why’ for the Australian public.

And that is critical, so that the success of this country is not vested solely in its political system or in a few CEOs.

Every person has a part to play in it. Then we’ll all realise that being a leader at any level, in any part of society, is actually quite difficult. We’ll develop a greater appreciation of what it takes, and a greater tolerance and respect for what it can deliver the nation, rather than just personal gain.

About the author

Pia Lee is CEO of LIW global leadership consultancy headquartered in Sydney

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