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Narcissism and leadership

A sub-optimal combination or How words and actions betray the self-obsessed

Irrespective of one’s political leanings, or view of the desirability of a second Clinton Presidency, the one thing that the current USA Presidential campaign is making very clear is that even in the age of self-obsession voters soon tire of obvious narcissists.

Someone needs to tell Donald Drumpf (yes, that is the original family name) that ‘leadership is not all about you’. As The Donald’s unravelling campaign demonstrates, people want leaders to be all about the concerns of the populace not the projection and protection of the candidate’s ego. So, no Donald, it’s not all about you, just as it was never, in our own example, all about Kevin, nor is it still.

The particularly disappointing thing about the Trump campaign is that it is so bad that it allows the Clinton campaign to do nothing other than say – ‘ well you can’t let him into the Whitehouse’. Policy discussion has not just taken a back-seat, it has been left at the curb.

The cult of personality is a shallow and lazy way to pick leaders. Perhaps the Trump candidacy, fed as it has been by the media new and old, will finally demonstrate that there needs to be some focus on more than grubby political blood sport. Yes, nasty narcissists have been, and still are, elected. However, ultimately, all have failed to be leaders of any quality and reputation. The shame of it is the damage done on the way through.

There has certainly been no shortage of such characters in the world of commerce.

What does all this tell business? Well, apart from driving more disillusionment with the political process, the lesson on leadership is plain. Words matter, a lot. Actions matter, even more and attitude matters, the most.

And, right on cue, up pops another example of actions not matching words.

When the, for now, CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumph, faced a Congressional Hearing on the issue of the bank opening over 1 million accounts without customer’s knowledge – and charging them for the privilege- he claimed that the buck stopped with him. What he did, though, was to blame the 3,500 low level staff he fired for the breach (but only after regulators found out the bank was engaged in the massive fraud).

Senator Elizabeth Warren didn’t let him off lightly. She pointed out that he had not suffered one cent of penalty (he is paid over US$20 Million in salary and bonuses per year) and that not one senior executive had resigned or been fired. That, she scolded him, showed a total lack of accountability. Now he is unlikely to hold his job much longer and the bank’s board has ordered him to pay back $41 Million in bonuses and stock options.

Leadership is having and demonstrating the right attitude, saying the right words and matching them with the right actions. Egomaniacal rants about how “I alone can fix this”, ego insecurity that demands vicious and venal retorts to real and imagined slights and demeaning, disrespectful behaviour to ‘friend’ and foe alike, are not the marks of a truly successful and respected business leader. We can only hope that they prove to be just as unsuccessful in modern democracies.

RMK+A is highly experienced in assisting senior executives and CEO’s with strategic communications, including key message development and all aspects of stakeholder engagement.

Tony Abbott: Architect of his own Demise

It is impossible not to feel for Tony Abbott after the events of Monday this week. There is no doubt that he is a well-intentioned man with, what he considered to be, the nation’s best interests at heart.

It must be acknowledged how devastatingly effective he was as an Opposition Leader; albeit using his core strengths (dogged determination, a boxing blue, and, yes, three word slogans) to lower the tone of Parliament, and the approach to national politics in general. In this endeavour he had many willing co-conspirators from both sides of the Chamber and beyond.

During that period one could argue that he effectively took down three Prime Ministers (Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd – twice), no easy task. What no one recognised during what appeared to be his ‘Howitzer’ phase was that he was also drawing up the plans for his own downfall.

He wasn’t a mere draftsman; he was an architect.

He demonstrated how to exploit a broken promise with a zeal unlikely seen anywhere outside a relationship on the rocks. It would be almost impossible to calculate the number of times a high-vis Abbott reminded us about the carbon tax that should never have been.

He was a pathfinder, illuminating the way for future Oppositions.

That’s what makes the Budget of 2014 so mystifying.

A litany of broken promises that drained the pool of credibility, which had been partially filled during the long years he had led the Opposition (granted, it was not terribly deep).

Compounded by the perception that it was highly inequitable, that Budget triggered a response from our collective reptilian brain that fairness was still an Australian trait. Assault fairness – insult the nation.

The sales job was carried out via the echo chamber. Yell an idea in; hear a slogan echoed back. It worked, but only on those doing the yelling. No one had considered informing the electorate of the need for action, let alone contemplating taking it along for the ride.

The appalling politics and communication of Budget 2014 made our former PM (and his fledgling government) an easy target; transforming him from a man of whom the nation was wary but willing to give a go; to another promise-breaking, untrustworthy, administratively inept leader.

Tony Abbott had morphed into what he had previously destroyed.

It is this aspect that generates an increased level of empathy in me for how Mr Abbott must be feeling today. The galling knowledge that in attempting to emulate one of his political heroes, that he had executed his plan so poorly he found himself at the trailhead of destruction. Ironically, he was the cartographer responsible for the map that identified his position so precisely.

It is impossible to gloss over the fact that every time he managed to give his hunters the slip, he, or one of his coterie would send up a flare alerting them to his whereabouts. From Sir Philip, to Bronwyn, to Peter Dutton’s trés hilarious joke – he was Canberra’s Tantalus, almost reaching his goal but not quite being able to reach it.

I hope that history remembers former Prime Minister Abbott with more than just a PutYourOnionsOut hash tag. He deserves better than that.

I also hope that the team of Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop go forward to deliver on their commitment of communicating with the nation, as opposed to treating us as mere tax-paying minions. After all, their decisions will likely have fairly substantial impacts on the lives of us tax-paying minions.

Finally, there’s a chance that the tenor of our national debate will improve and that we will witness some non-poll/focus group driven leadership and policy development.

Who knows, good government might have even started yesterday.

Whiz Bang Pop

Strategic communication: where’s the Whiz, Bang & Pop?

By Angus Nicholls

You know that you have reached middle age when you are speaking about a state election that is still three months away.

Having since processed this sobering realisation, I began thinking about what the common theme was that had emerged in the conversations with my contemporaries regarding strategic communication and this upcoming poll. It was that “something was missing.”

This in turn took me back to 2004. At the time I was drafting policy documents for the Federal Government to take to the upcoming election. The consistent question that was put to me during the drafting process was “…where’s the Whiz, Bang, Pop?

Though sounding more like the tag line for a new and exciting confectionary product, it summed up the essence of presenting not only the Government’s past achievements, but also how the future actions of a re-elected Government would capture the imagination of the electorate.

It was not simply re-hashing a “business as usual” approach, but linking proposed actions to an overall improvement for the nation.

An approach that referenced future opportunities for the current generation and their children; wellbeing and improved standards of living were certainly front of mind.

The key was to then link this “Whiz, Bang, Pop” to the core business of Government and provide the context that accounted for why the proposed actions of a future Government were the right ones to take. In short: narrative.

With the benefit of middle age and hindsight, I am not quite sure that I nailed the brief, although the Government was re-elected and gained control of the Senate.

Why is this relevant today?

Because I would contend that there is a distinct lack of narrative being applied by both major parties to the policies that they have released in the lead up to this poll.

The importance of providing a narrative is no better illustrated than by giving candidates a story to tell. It enables them to link the macro to the local environ.

Additionally, by developing policy with narrative/context as a central theme it guides it down a “bigger picture” path, rather than land locking it into a specific geographic area and time.

The following example is an illustration.

East West Link – how the story could be told:

  • This road is being built as a part of Victoria’s infrastructure jigsaw.
  • It is a critical piece of infrastructure that will help to reduce congestion (in conjunction with regional and metro rail projects) and increase the efficiency of our freight-based industries.
  • Freight and trade in Victoria are massively important to our economy.
  • The State is well placed to double it’s food production in the next 15 years (and has a plan to do so).
  • This not only underpins the current employment of 145,000 people in food related industries in Victoria, but also strengthens our regions through increased trade, which underpins robust and diverse regional economies.
  • What a great outcome for Victorian regional youth! Providing them with both opportunity and choice as to whether or not they wish to forge their career in the country.

By way of counterpoint I contend that the ALP’s $70m announcement for the ongoing redevelopment of Kardinia Park will be a hard sell for local candidates.

Why? It has been made against the backdrop of companies closing sites (Shell, Ford, Alcoa, Target) leaving thousands with an uncertain employment future.

Outside a deep-seated love of their football team, how does this help Geelong and surrounding residents now and into the future?

The conclusion that I draw out of all of this? To get your “Whiz, Bang, Pop” you need to put your target audience in the middle of the picture with the view to improving their current and future circumstances.

If you’re not sure where to start in pulling your story together, give ICG a call. “Whiz, Bang, Pop” is a small part of what we do.

 

AN

 

 

 

Victorian government

Victorian Parliament: 18 days to clarity or nine to calamity

The Victorian Parliament has 18 more sitting days before it is prorogued to end one of its most dysfunctional periods of government.

The Victorian Parliament’s last sitting day of October 16 will then see the government move into the mandatory six weeks purdah period before the designated election on November 29.

Three sitting weeks in June and August, or nine days, will be without the disruptive suspended independent member Geoff Shaw who has been principally the instigator of this dysfunctional period.

He holds the balance of power and is set to return on September 2 when parliament resumes for two weeks in September and the final week of sitting starting on October 14.

It will be during this period that the parliament will either be able to deal with many of the infrastructure bills and other regulatory and legislative matters that the Coalition government wants signed off, or Victoria faces another destabilising period.

The State does not need the latter.  Politicians and their Party administrations need to ensure that they are there for the advancement of the State, not for personal headlines or egos that appeal to minorities and don’t make a significant contribution to the development of the State, or go towards achieving a vision for the State.

This is also the period in which private sector needs to put its cases to all political parties to get them either incorporated into election policies or have them addressed before the purdah period.

In the health sector, the government is looking at outsourcing many of its functions to the private sector, in the agriculture sector they are looking to expand trade into Asia as well as enhance local processing, in the mining sector they want to highlight the significance to the State to the future opportunities, including a direction on future onshore exploration, in the manufacturing sector they are looking at every opportunity to attract new industries and grow jobs.

Transport, health, education, law and order are key functionary elements that the community expect, but they are not visionary. They are necessities that governments must ensure they plan and manage well.  This is not to say that the parties could not turn education or health (medical research and best practice) into a vision for the state with a bit of thought!

However, the window for the private sector to act is narrowing. They must act now!

All parties will be running functions to meet with Leaders, Ministers, Shadow Ministers and candidates.  All are important to you in the information process, but you must ensure that your case addresses the current policies of all the parties, or seek to influence these policies.

If you are going down this path and want expertise counsel, talk with us. Experience and knowledge are the basis of our practice.

Robert Masters