Leadership lessons from the 2019 Australian Federal Election

By June 21, 2019client

The Australian federal election delivered a shock result, with the Coalition government returning to power for a third consecutive term. Despite the polls and bookies odds strongly favouring the Labor party, the Australian voters handed a marginal, yet clear victory to Scott Morrison. It would seem that Labor lost the “unlosable” election and instead of Labor leader, Bill Shorten, giving his intended victory speech, he announced his defeat. It was a shock result that surprised almost everyone except the old guard of the Liberal party.

In the surprise, there are crucial leadership lessons that can be taken away from the election result and they apply just as much to the Corporate world, as the political environment. The Labor party was widely favoured to win this election. So where did it all go wrong?

What are the lessons you may ask? I believe the lessons are:

 

Number one: A leader must be present

From a leadership perspective, there were two very different styles competing against each other to be the Prime Minister of Australia. Liberals put their laser focus on Morrison and his leadership of the party. Whereas, Labor focussed on the party and team rather than their actual leader. Shorten disappeared to a great extent and was almost invisible on any advertising material distributed to the Australian public throughout the campaign.

Decisions are made by voters from the information they have in front of them, and this is where our first leadership lesson comes from. If you treat the public as idiots, then they draw their own conclusions.

Pundits have begun to blame Bill Shorten and his invisible style of leadership for Labor’s loss. It led to a perception in the public that he was toxic because he was being hidden away. Bill Shorten left people confused as they struggled to understand what he actually stood for because he was rarely present when compared to the saturation coverage of Scott Morrison.

In scenes reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s defeat against Donald Trump, sometimes the devil you know and see, is better than the devil you don’t. As with Clinton, Bill Shorten became deeply unpopular as the campaign grew not only because of poor campaigning which fostered more distrust and confusion than votes but because he was not present and rarely answered a straight question directed at him during the campaign.

Morrison was the affable guy-next-door and his appeal grew more and more during the campaign. Morrison promised little, except he was present and seen everywhere, effectively he was everything Shorten wasn’t and the strategy paid off.

If you aspire to be a great leader, you must be present and available to your team, in this case the Australian public. Show them what you stand for, deliver real substance and don’t be glossy because they won’t buy it and will see through it!

 

Number two: A leader has to be trustworthy

In the mind and eyes of the public, their was not trust for the Labor leader. It did not matter what Labor had promised and more that the public was unwilling to believe it and more importantly did not trust it.

Scott Morrison recognised this perception shift and gave a laser-focus on this fatal weakness in his opponent. He relentlessly attacked an already unpopular and distrusted Labor leader, forcing voters to consider the unintended or unannounced consequences of change by stating you cannot trust Shorten and Labour.

There will never be trust amongst the team if there isn’t first and foremost trust in the leader. Trust is the crucial fundamental element required to have a functioning team.

People want genuine and authentic leaders who can be trusted. This worked in Morrison’s favour, as he had become the accidental leader. The public demand that their leaders be who they say they are and act accordingly. As opposed to being a leader who acts and says what they think the public wants them to be. Some leaders, particularly political ones, will say whatever needs to be said in the moment to cling to power. While many talk the talk, the few who walk it will be trusted and followed.

This works in a leader’s favour when building trust in the team. When a leader continues, again and again, to let down others, trust dwindles, and chaos can quickly ensue.

 

Number Three: A real leader owns their own mistakes

Bill Shorten has blamed others for his failed election campaign, and nicely left us with a third and final lesson. The leaders who blame others and cannot see the faults in themselves are the worst leaders and ultimately never last, unless they are a dictator (eg Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein).

The true, revered leaders admits mistakes and when they get things wrong, that is why Bob Hawke was so adored when he led the Labor party to four consecutive victories. This type of leader possesses a greater level of self-awareness and acceptance of their own vulnerability. Whereas the leader who blames others is only interested in these roles for their own personal gain. They work their way into positions of power because it enhances their CV, not because they are likely to be a trusted and respected leader.

In the final days of the election, the Labor party was viewed, rightly or wrongly, as arrogant. They behaved as if they had already won the day with leader Bill Shorten sharing a meme the day of the election saying, ‘it’s time for change’ and when it wasn’t it was everyone’s fault other than his!  A good birthday present for Bill might be a mirror because true, genuine leaders hold it up to themselves and regularly admit what they got wrong

Morrison didn’t just beat Bill Shorten or Labor. It’s much deeper than that. He beat poor leadership. He beat an untrustworthy leader. He beat a leader who assumed his ascension to power was preordained.  When none of that happened, the true leader came out, and it was not pretty. Morrison himself described his win as a miracle, now all eyes are on him to lead Australia and be the leader he presented during the campaign.

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