We want real leadership. And when do we want it? Now! | Jackie Crispin Brown
jackie crispin brown

Shock, despair, uncertainty, fear, loss.

Our situation is so confronting I’m looking for direction, for help, for comfort. I want to be told it will be ok and normal will be here again.  That’s not what I need though. I need to understand that the future can successfully be different and while challenging, it can be very positive.   I’m looking for someone to show me leadership.

And I’m not alone.  I googled “Leadership, Bushfire, Last 2 months, news” and found 5.9 million hits. This left me curious.  What does it mean when we keep saying we want leadership from the prime minister or the premier or other public figures?

Scott Morrison’s response to the public outrage that he was holidaying in Hawaii while we faced our fire disaster was:

“I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time,”

“But if I can return and provide some moral support to people who are out there doing it really tough, then that’s what I’ll be very glad to do,” he said.

Offence caused?  Moral support?  Empathy & compassion, yes, though this is not enough.

Do we really want someone to make us feel better?  Do we want stuff done?  Someone to ‘save’ us?

My suspicion is we are unclear what leadership really means.  I work with many groups of people who want to develop their leadership and I ask them to define the act of leadership and to start, many struggle. (Have a go yourself, how do you define the act of leadership?) Usually they will describe traits or behaviours of good leadership but struggle to define the act.  It’s important because if we want more or less or to grow leadership, we need to be clear about what it means to us.  Then we can all be clear about what we are asking for.

There are many definitions, however I’ll pair it back to basics.  The act of leadership is to have a ‘vision’ of a different future, to engage with others such that they can find themselves in that vision and finally through the actions of self and others that vision is achieved.

There are lots of ways and styles through which this might be achieved.  And we are each skilled in different parts of leadership. But all the pieces are important.  Visioning, impactful relationship with others in service of this vision and the inspiration to achieve it.

Is now the time to get clearer about what we really mean when we ask for leadership?   It seems we have become disillusioned with political leadership through its apparent absence.  We have settled for adequate management (getting the budget done, keeping the country ticking over, governance, the ‘business as usual’ stuff) rather than leadership.

Leadership comes with consequence.  Effective leadership engages us in a vision; that means change.  Human beings are innately uncomfortable with personal change.  (Just look at the many failed attempts at changing our diets, exercise regime or giving up unhelpful habits). We push back and discourage our leaders to not be ambitious in vision, to allow us to remain comfortable in the status quo.  Leaders don’t just do it all for us, assuming they know what’s best for us, that’s paternalistic.  We ‘followers’ need to play an active part. Leadership needs to be a two-way street to be effective.

The thing that excites me about this rather terrible time is there are so many examples of people stepping into their own leadership, not waiting to be told or for someone with the title to do the work.  Everywhere I look there is someone seeing an opportunity to make a difference, engaging others in this and acting.  Some leadership acts are small, some are huge and spectacular, they’re all leadership!

How do we recognise effective leadership?

  • Firstly, what can you see? Is there a vision for the future? Is someone showing a way forward?  Do you understand where this is going?
  • What is the impact on you? Are they seeking to connect with you to engage in the ‘vision’. To inspire, motivate, influence, challenge, or some other of moving you? Are they increasing your confidence that you are valuable and have a role to play? Are they being transparent and trustworthy?   Do you feel you are participating in the conversation (or are just being ‘told’)?
  • Do you know what the goals are? Are there tangible, real results? Do you move forward or stay more or less in the same place?

We need to be really clear about what we expect of our leaders.  Saying we ‘want real leadership’ isn’t enough.  We need to be clear about what we mean and ask for it.

I want a courageous, expansive, cohesive, inclusive vision for Australia.  I want an engaging positive, respectful, open relationship through which I understand the vision and the role I can play in it.  I want to be engaged so the challenges in such a vision are worth it to me.  And finally, I want honest, transparent results.  And I know I need to tell my political leaders at every level, that’s what I expect.

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