Saturday Soapbox: Where Have All Our Leaders Gone?

Warning: This post is a little heavier than my usual fair and is about politics, although it is not political. If you don’t like to read about politics then jump off here.

We live in difficult times. Difficult from the point of view of uncertainty, both in terms of the emergence of a new world order and in economic terms. It is at these times people look to leaders, not so much for the answers to their problems, but for inspiration and motivation to find the answers to their problems.

Firstly, some terminology. In my mind there is a clear distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are responsible for delivering tasks and outcomes, they steer a process. Whilst a manager can also be a leader, managing and leading require different skills and it is rare that you find those skill sets together. There is some overlap at the centre between the skill sets, but at the edges, a leader has to have something more. Further, a leader does not necessarily have to be a good manager, rather he has to have the confidence and intelligence to delegate to good managers.

A leader has to have vision and to be able to articulate and paint that vision in a way that makes it real. A genuine leader:

    • follows when necessary and steps to the front where necessary
    • listens as much as she speaks
    • is a pupil as much as he is a teacher
    • has respect for all people no matter their culture, socio-economic circumstances, physical features or religion
    • behaves graciously
    • has confidence with humility
    • values imput from others.

Coincidentally, the quote on my desk calendar today comes from Mahatma Gandhi, who was a leader:

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind

This quote is particularly apposite to the topic of this post.

Australia’s system of government is modelled on the English Westminster system. The people elect members to the upper and lower houses of parliament as their representatives who debate policy and pass laws. The government is chosen from the party who has the majority of seats in the lower house. Debates are highly adversarial and members often grandstand, call each other names and point score – an eye for an eye. All of this may be tradition and somewhat theatrical, some might even say entertaining, but to me it is lamentable. There are ways of conveying a point of view, graciously and respectfully without personally attacking anyone. The whole show reminds me of a badly behaved kindergarten class where the Speaker kindergarten teacher has lost control. The behaviour is not confined to any one side of politics or any gender.

Just think if we brought this sort of behaviour into the boardroom, nothing would get done. Apart from the fact that everyone would be suing everyone else for defamation, people would be highly distracted by the theatrics and the real task at hand would be forever postponed.

Outside of parliament, our politicians are constantly selling their vision/message to the people. I use the term selling deliberately because the spin is nauseatingly dizzying. Sugar coating is for bakeries, not for government. The populace is not stupid, nor do they need to be patronized. If there is a bitter pill to swallow, I would rather be told straight by someone I respect and who at the same time as delivering the pill delivers the vision for dealing with the affects of that pill.

I believe the dearth of genuine leaders and authentic leadership is responsible for the close call elections and hung parliaments around the world. Australia itself has no clear governing majority party, the Labor government relies on deals with a handful of independents, Greece is returning to the polls after an equivocal election and England is also governed by a coalition government after its 2010 general election.

What example are we setting for our future parliamentarians?

Where has the leadership gone, where are all the leaders hiding? Where are all the authentic men and women with genuine presence, dignity and vision? We need you on all sides of politics, this is a call to arms and there’s not a moment to lose.

Saturday Soapbox: Keeping It Real With Role Models

True it is that it is Sunday morning here, but in cyberspace everyday lasts 48 hours and it’s still Saturday somewhere – hello to all my West Coast US readers!

Earlier this week, I wrote about Nigella Lawson and how she seemed real to me as a domestic goddess. Nigella is in stark contrast to Martha Stewart who is about as real to me as a set of silicone implants. I am not talking about Martha’s appearance rather her approach to domesticity. With all due respect to Martha and her followers there is no way I am spending two hours a day folding my towels and sheets so that they form colour coordinated, scented sentinels at the ready. My linen cupboard, as a place for storing functional material, is a semi-organised lucky dip.

This got me thinking about the role models I have had and the women who have been seemingly trotted out to me as role models during my life. As most of you know, I am in my 40′s. I have read various articles which place the year of my birth anywhere in the late Baby Boomer category to the early Gen X basket and if that were not already confusing enough within something called “Generation Jones”. What is Generation Jones? I regard myself as a Gen Xer but whatever the label, I am amongst that generation of women who were led to believe we could have it all. Just how we were to have it all was the $64 million question.

I have spent my working life in a male dominated industry. When I started my career there were very few women in senior power positions and those who were did not seemingly have it all. They had parts of it, but never the whole box and dice. Even now, some two decades later, the statistics are sadly lacking in terms of senior women relative to the percentage of women in the industry as a whole. I will be upfront and say that I have never placed much credence in the view that there is a glass ceiling. There are a whole lot of reasons as to why the statistics are the way they are that have nothing to do with a glass ceiling – I won’t bore you with those reasons. Let’s just say the statistics are now trending in the right direction, albeit at a pace that is certainly not hare-like.

In all fairness to my industry they have tried to grapple with the lack of senior power women. Some of the measures employed include women’s networking functions, skilling and reskilling seminars for women and even affirmative action. I will be upfront again and say I am not a fan of any of these. The answer to me lies more with a change of culture and attitude towards flexible working practices – an issue, that with an aging population, will increasingly affect women AND men. But’s that’s a whole other blog post.

Time and again, I have sat at these functions listening to these supposed power women role models and thinking that people need to keep it real. There was one female executive who was paraded as a role model who indeed had reached the dizzying heights of corporate success whilst being a mother to three children. What became evident as she spoke was that she had a passel of nannies and other paid help and a schedule that enabled her to sleep four hours a night. Whilst I am very pleased that it worked for her, how many of us can function fully on only four hours sleep a night? I know I can’t. Also how many of us can afford paid help, especially at the start of our careers?

Yet another woman who travelled the world in her corporate guise had been married three times and had the reputation of a pit bull ball breaker. After hearing her story, not only was she not someone who I wished to model myself on, but she was someone with whom I could not identify. In saying that I make no judgement call on the reasons for remarriage/divorce or the state of being divorced. All I know is that it is not something to which I aspire.

Show me a woman who has a successful career, a family, gets at least seven hours sleep a night, is involved in her family’s lives, is personable and approachable and possibly has a bit of baby spit on the shoulder of her business suit and I am on board. I appreciate that everyone is different and that the issue is quite subjective, but it’s important that we keep it real for those that are coming behind us. There is way too much spin in the world already. Maybe the lesson here is that one can’t really have it all.

Right now my hands are fully occupied juggling balls that don’t include a perfect linen cupboard. Maybe by the time the perfect cupboard comes under my radar domestic science will have evolved to a degree where I can have my colour coded scented linen sentinels at the ready in under an hour. One can only hope.