JOHN MENADUE. Political leadership . Morrison or Shorten?

May 1, 2019

 We are regularly polled about who is the best leader as if it a popularity contest. That is not what leadership is about. And leadership and charisma are  quite different.

Good leadership is about facing the country or group up to the hard issues. Without clearly defining why and how we need to change and creating  some disequilibrium there will be no worthwhile change. Climate change is the great issue we face. Steady and focussed leadership is essential.

We have an unfortunate habit of thinking that if only we could change our leaders we could solve our problems. Yet it is clear that after disposing of our PM’s one after the other we are no better off.  The situation is often worse.

Leadership is a set of activities in which the group – small or large,national, corporate, government, religious or social, is persuaded to make necessary but difficult and painful changes. Some will be disadvantaged. That fact has to be faced.

In combatting climate change  polluters  must pay for the pollution they put into the atmosphere. The ‘economy’ may also suffer but that may be a price we have to pay for saving our planet. But it is much more likely that the dramatic increase in renewables could super charge our economy, a green New Deal as the Americans are calling it. But there will be dislocation and change which wise and patient  leaders must explain, perhaps many times and propose compensation for the vulnerable, like coal miners, where necessary.

 It is about asking the hard questions and pursuing them until a resolution is found. It requires disequilibrium to force us outside our comfort zone. Change and reform does not occur in comfort zones. Vested interests whether in  business, politics  or church will invariably oppose change to maintain their power and privileges . They seek to keep us comfortable with the status quo.

Leadership is  not the same as charisma. Some charismatic people like Bin Laden, were clearly mad. Obama’s problem may have been that he was too charismatic. For some Donald Trump is charismatic! Winston Churchill was certainly charismatic but rejected in 1945 as being unsuitable for post war reconstruction. Clem Atlee who replaced him was regarded by many as dull and boring .But he got things done and was described by many historians as Britain’s most successful post WW2 Prime Minister. Ben Chifley was not charismatic. . He was regarded as genuine . He laid the basis for Australia’s post war social and economic prosperity.

Leadership is particularly necessary when we accept that it will be very hard to change strongly entrenched attitudes and self interest such as on climate change or the preservation of property values by property owners at the expense of non property owners. Other hard questions include budget repair with fairness, drugs and reconciliation with our indigenous people.”  In addressing these hard issues we have to adapt, and undergo painful change; even changes in our privileges and lifestyle. That is when leadership is essential.

Compromised leadership and avoiding painful change takes many forms;

  •  scare campaigns to divert attention from the key issues
  • focus on marketing rather than substance
  • change the subject…. from climate change to the price of electricity or tax.
  • deny the problem like climate change…it is ‘crap’
  • keep busy on the detail .
  • define the problem as a technical one…‘clean’ coal.
  • change the ‘leader’ and hope for an easy solution.

In summary  I see  the features of good leadership as

  • A quiet and determined courage to keep the country or  group focussed on the key issues
  • Help the group clarify the problem and why we need to change– e.g. climate change and inequality
  • Describe the values and vision that must be pursued
  • Keep out of the detail and listen to the community.
  • Don’t attempt to solve the group’s problem or make decisions ahead of the group. Don’t rush it
  • To secure change it is necessary to create some disequilibrium – people don’t change in comfort zones. The powerful and privileged will resist. The leader says ‘we must change and some will be disadvantaged’
  • Use allies and supporters rather than placate opponents as Malcolm Turnbull did .
  • Integrate public and private values. A lack of integrity becomes very obvious. We will tolerate mistakes by leaders but not phoniness. Jacinda Adern is admired because she is authentic

Who is most likely to keep us focussed on the key issue  for our planet and this election, climate change? A good leader must keep us focussed on this issue until we get a satisfactory resolution.

Is it Scott Morrison or Bill Shorten?

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