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Victorian politics: spot the future leader

The Victorian election is just two years away. For those with an abiding interest in Victorian politics and establishing and maintaining dialogue with the State Government, now is the time to develop relationships with parliamentarians who are destined for higher office.

If the Baillieu Government retains office after the 2014 election, there will inevitably be changes in the ministry. Another reason to take a close interest in rising stars is that there could perhaps be a ministerial reshuffle before the next State election.

At this stage, we have confined our interest to the parliamentary Liberal Party. We shall look at the ALP and the National Party later on.

The Libs have several members outside the present ministry that look to have what it takes to make it into cabinet. We have identified four in the Legislative Assembly and two in the Legislative Council, but there may be more. We shall discuss them as we find them.

The two Upper House members that present themselves are Ed O’Donohue and Andrea Coote. Both are Parliamentary Secretaries (which is effectively a traineeship for a Ministry). Andrea is Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services and Ed is Parliamentary Secretary for Transport. Both work hard, keep themselves well informed and are very articulate.

Andrea was close to Peter Costello. Because of tension between Baillieu and Costello, this nexus became an issue while the Libs were in Opposition, but it appears that at least some of the fences have been mended. Andrea is MLC for Southern Metropolitan.

Ed O’Donohue is still young but he has excellent presence and interpersonal skills. Ed is MLC for Eastern Victoria.

In the lower house, Heidi Victoria (MLA for Bayswater) is Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier and Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Premier with the Arts. She has impressed everyone we know with whom she has had dealings. She is strong, well-networked, efficient and very much on top of the job.

Gary Blackwood (MLA for Narracan) is Parliamentary Secretary for Forestry and Fisheries. David Southwick is the Member for Caulfield. Both are well regarded. David coordinates the interface between sitting members and the policy forums inside the Liberal Party. This is a complex and delicate job and he does it well.

A recent entrant into parliament is Andrew Katos, Member for South Barwon. Andrew is very energetic and an excellent networker. It’s early days, but – providing the Liberal Party can retain government – Andrew is a candidate for promotion.

The Libs need to win a second term and that is by no means assured. However, it never hurts to be aware of potential state leaders and look at opportunities to develop appropriate relationships.


US politics – when the spin stops and the penny drops

US politics never fails to entertain. US President Barak Obama’s comprehensive win in the recent election generated massive media commentary about a surprise blow-out of what was touted as a very close contest.

Not only was it not close but the result was known by  mid- evening, thus making a whole lot of pundits change gear from commenting on ‘what’s happening ‘ to ‘what the f@*&% just happened?’

What happened was that democracy (as in the actual voting public) and the facts won.

Despite the incessant media carpet bombing of the electorate with interminable musings and postulations  from all sides, the voting public made up their own mind and, it appears, had done so well before the polls opened.

Much has been said about poll aggregator Nate Silver’s “magic touch” in accurately predicting the outcome in all 50 states but less has been said about the source polls Silver used, many of which were predicting the exact outcome nine months before counting started.

It is worth remembering that before the illusory and largely partisan boost Romney received in the first debate he was considered, by all and sundry including the majority of Republicans,  an also-ran.

As the right-wing media machine turned a solid performance into “a stunning upset with the prospect of securing the presidency” they convinced themselves and the republican campaign that Romney could win. Anything that did not fit their narrative was labelled biased left-wing propaganda.  Unaware irony is the best kind.

The facts were there all along for anyone who cared to look but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

None of this is to take anything away from the outstanding, data-driven,  effort of the Obama campaign to get out the democrat vote, let alone to exploit many of Romney’s obvious weaknesses.

Even so the lesson is very clear; if you believe your own propaganda you are doomed. Of course it is essential to have a competitive message but you need a full and frank assessment of the facts if you are to devise a plan that has any chance of success

An echo chamber of yes –men and supplicants (aided and abetted by media relishing a close contest to their own ratings) will send you marching confidently into the teeth of defeat, and skulking back with a look of total shock and disbelief, each time.

In the absence of anything more concrete it is probably best, in any contest, to go with the facts and make your plans accordingly.


Getting on the front foot

With the summer of Cricket already upon us it is worth reflecting on the business lessons that can be drawn from a casual observation of the basic strategies of the game.

  • In the classic five-day version of the game a batsman has the time to build a score, pick loose balls and sloppy deliveries, develop confidence and read the style of each of the bowlers.
  • In the short versions of the game patient consideration is replaced by the need for a quick score.
  • One-day and 20/20 are exciting to watch, but the risks taken are far higher than at test level.
  • A national cricket team needs to have a variety of skills, resources and strategies for success in the short and long game.
  • Building that team is a tricky balance for national selectors and team captains.
  • The objective of any team member is to help the team succeed in whatever version of the game is being played.
  • Taking a risk may be seen as holding some personal downside yet not taking any will ultimately result in failure.
  • Leaders need to encourage the right mix of conservatism and risk taking. 
  • Risk comes with attendant occasional failure and from failure, often, comes learning.
  • Creating the right environment for appropriate risk taking and resultant learning, is as much part of the leader’s role as the setting of the overall strategy.

I leave you to draw the parallels with the business world.


The leadership expectation & why the boss is always in play

We are well used to showbiz personalities and politicians being put under a constant media spotlight. Their every personal failing and peccadillo broadcast for the amusement, titillation and schadenfreude of the avaricious and unforgiving mass media audience.

But now it would appear that the same harsh light is being focused on our public service and corporate leaders. At least when it comes to their behavior when faced with a crisis which has public implications or, at least, a cloak of public interest to justify a media feeding frenzy.

Three recent examples underscore the need for public service and corporate leaders to be very aware of their public image at times of potential, developing and actual crisis.

They are crucifixion of Christine Nixon, the disgrace of former DJs CEO Mark McInnes  and the public pillorying of BP CEO  Tony Hayward.

Granted the later has either knowingly, or arrogantly, managed to cover himself in glory in inverse proportion to the amount of oil covering the Gulf of Mexico. However he still stands as a clear object lesson as to the perception of the  required public action of a CEO dealing with such a catastrophe.

Either he is incredibly insensitive or just plain could not care less how he is perceived, or both. How else could one explain comments such as “I just want to get my life back” and “we care about the little people ” and actions such as leaving the crisis scene to go sailing on his multi-million dollar racing yacht, whilst wearing a Rolls Royce cap. Of all things, sailing!

It cannot be possible that he is taking the advice of any corporate communications advisor worth their salt (no pun intended).

He may not be able to do much about the spill personally by remaining on site and he may well have able lieutenants dealing with it as best they can but, the perception of not being there and of not caring is intensely negative. A commander is expected to be at the battlefront and in charge, not away on a far hill, or further. In the modern warfare analogy this may not actually be the case but it does not change the expectation and most importantly, the perception.

This is where Christine Nixon got into trouble.

No one doubts her empathetic skills, her genuine concern or her dedication to repairing the damage of Black Saturday. The problem came from a perception that she should have realized that there was a developing catastrophe and been there as it unfolded. What difference it would have made is a moot point. The point is she should have known that people would be expecting her, as a leader, not to leave the post in such a time of crisis.

Error of judgment or lack of true understanding of how the community perceives leadership and expects of its leaders? Again possibly both.

In Mark McInnes’ case the term ‘error of judgment’ is the best construction that can be put on events as they were disclosed.

Leaders are the culture setters in their organization. If they cannot discern the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior what chance the ‘little people’?

The days of sweeping such indiscretions under the plush carpet are well and truly over. Particularly when the media love to feed off such salaciousness. DJs did the right thing and had no choice but to say goodbye to their CEO.

Experienced communication advisors, often dismissed as spin doctors, are critical in dealing with public perception and expectation issues at times of crisis. They should be setting the clear guidelines, even for the CEO and Board (perhaps particularly for them) as to how the company communicates and what image it projects. CEOs who ignore such advice do so at the peril of their personal and their company’s public image.

Finally, just because I have used a military analogy and to prove that all leaders need to be aware of the harshness of the media glare, General Stanley McChrystal shoots his mouth off. All too human but not what is expected of such a leader. Result? He got sacked.