Where are the leaders in our society? There should be many thousands out there. After all, we have numerous captains of industry, government officials, politicians, local community representatives and sporting heroes to play the part. As I see it, our country should be awash with impressive leaders. But I keep missing them.
Take a moment to bring the names or faces of some public figures to mind. For now, just consider well-known people who hold an appointed position, like a CEO or government minister. How many would you describe as a ‘good leader’? I have to admit I am struggling to conjure up more than a handful.
Perhaps this is a bit unfair. After all, the media tends to parade those who fail to inspire, or even worse, disappoint by betraying our trust or expectations. Who is in the news and why? Football stars misusing social media; a retired politician in the courts on corruption changes; and a cardinal reluctantly facing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So sadly, not all of the people who should set a high standard have made the grade. Many are in jobs with leadership responsibility, but the rest of us struggle to see them as credible leaders or role models. We seem to have many more ‘positions of leadership’ than we have leaders to fill them.
It comes down to what people do, or fail to do, after they acquire the position. After the fanfare, will they deliver or not? I think of it as the leadership waiting game.
On the national stage, the leadership waiting game has reached a critical point. Instead of decisive action from a new Prime Minister, he and his party are looking inward and their internal divisions are on display for all to see. Instead of policies and progress, we have a double dissolution election to keep us preoccupied for months on end. The problem of paralysis and indecision at the highest levels is not new. From the perspective of the broad Australian community it has been a problem for years. But Malcolm Turnbull got our hopes up when be become Prime Minister, and we expected more.
If the national leadership was acting rather than waiting on the sidelines we would know it. The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities on health, education and other social indicators would have narrowed much more than it has. Large and powerful corporations would be paying their fair share of tax. We would have all of the Gonski reforms that we desperately need. We would not be bracing for a plebiscite on gay marriage. Australia would have become a republic years ago. And our carbon emissions would be dropping, not rising, as they have done over the last year or two.
Good leaders don’t keep people waiting this long. They make a decision and take a stand on something people care about. And then they act. They are willing to take personal risks because they care more about the cause then their own comfort or success.
In brief, good leaders act courageously. And there are some great examples. When Army Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison received evidence of appalling, discriminatory behaviour towards women in the army, his response was strong and unequivocal. He was determined to change the culture. This was not an easy decision. Even now, as Australian of the Year, he is frequently on the receiving end of no-so-friendly fire from old colleagues.
Think about how much better our society would be if more people in leadership positions acted like David Morrison.
Fortunately, the vacuum is often filled by unsung, modest heroes who really do make a difference. For example, baby Asha would be back on Nauru without the brave intervention of a host of health professionals, willing to risk their careers.
And consider the Close the Gap Campaign. Despite the disappointing results overall, in some areas Indigenous infant mortality rates have dropped and more students are competing Year 12. These things would not be possible without real vision and courageous action in numerous communities throughout the country.
Through my You Can Lead Consultancy I assist emerging leaders – people who are not prepared to wait – but want to make a difference now. My mission is to help them become confident, credible leaders who inspire others.