Questions of leadership

While doing some (academic) reading, I came across an interesting comparison of different leadership styles. It reads;

” (A) As a broker – provide information, indentify coalitions, faciliate side-payments and development of logrolls;

(B) A transformer of preferences via interaction – co-opting new beliefs and commitments through education, stimulating and accepting changing world views, redefining meanings and stimulating commitments” (March and Olsen, The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life)

Apart from having to look up logrolls (‘to work towards to passage of legislation… via ‘logrolling’), this contrast of leadership stirred some thoughts about current Australian political leadership.

The authors clear preference for the second description (and utter disdain for the first) took me to a place far, far away from a political environment I feel Australia is currently situated in. While I am an unabashed ALP support (and member), I feel that political leadership that can ‘co-opt new beliefs’ and ‘stimulate and accept change’ is lacking at the present time across the spectrum.

Most recently, and perhaps most obviously, is the ‘discussion’ about multiculturalism. In particular this relates to comments from Scott Morrison and Cory Bernadi. Tony Abbot felt his clarification of comments (and perhaps some stern words behind closed doors) was enough. He came across as a broker – one looking to steer angry public reaction away from his party room colleagues yet also allowing a certain section of the public to see very specific values that the Liberal Party hold in some factions. He was willing let the discussion continue yet failed to stimulate a rationale for the discussion, instead fighting a rear guard action. While this behaviour is might be morally unacceptable to a particular crowd, it has become a legitimate (in the eyes of many) political tactic to employ when further support is required.

Less surprising behaviour was exhibited by other political actors. Neil Mitchell, and more forcefully, Alan Jones, displayed political leadership in their interviews with Julia Gillard in the aftermath of the initial Carbon Price announcement. The very first step of leadership as preferenced above is “A transformer of preferences via interaction”. Yet there was very little interaction here.  This was political theatre, preaching to a stable audience where interaction is frowned upon. Jones in particular was contemptuous that he had to wait ten minutes for the Prime Minister.  A conservative audience would know common decency better than most and I feel the incident hurt Jones significantly. The ratings may not demonstrate it empirically, but the emotions people feel in relation to his further comment will have evolved because of the incident. Jones could not provide factual information or contribute to the wider debate in a significant manner. This type of behaviour does not exhibit leadership qualities which a presenter, even one with a wholly different agenda to their guest, should be striving to reach. This is especially true given the responsibilities which come with such a large following.

And we come to Gillard herself. My pet issue is treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres. The economic costs are unbelievable while the individual lives being drastically changed for the negative is regrettable. Yet on this issue, since the very first day of her Prime Ministership, we have seen leadership which lacks an ability to transform. Process driven, she provided facts (recall the MCG analogy), she identified support (unfortunately a person with limited power – Dr Jose Ramos Horta) and she begun a search for Government policy change.

More than any other Prime Minister I can think of, she typifies a style of leadership based on providing information, identifying coalitions, faciliate side-payments and development of logrolls – the definition of a broker. She wears this definition with pride. Her history of an industrial lawyer, a student politician and a factional ALP MP all demonstrate highly refined qualities in that form of leadership. Yet rarely is it asked by the mainstream, is this leadership sufficient? Is there more that a leader should do? What constitutes appropriate behaviour in the face of traditional Government policy?

The answers are not necessarily out there (sorry Moulder). But one thing I think can be guaranteed. The Australian people enjoy and support a leader who is transformative. Who assails them to change their belief, whether it be tariff protection, higher education, gun control, taxation or border protection. Reading the thousands of words about Carbon Pricing and Climate Control, it is hard not to think that the Government is heading to defeat. Perhaps this is overly negative at a very early stage. Yet while Kevin Rudd was over the top (the greatest moral issue of our time), Julia Gillard has been spooked into the complete opposite direction. There is no call to action. One feels there will be no price to pay. Yet perhaps this is required for leadership to fashion change.


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