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Seeking authentic leadership?

What is authentic leadership? It may be hard to describe, but you can sure smell it when it’s faked.  Increasingly, it’s a quality that we’re looking for in our corporate and political leaders.

It’s a fair bet that when you ask someone what characteristics they want to see in their leaders AUTHENTICITY is near the top. This goes for all leaders – men and women – whether in politics, corporates, public sector or community and service associations. Other key attributes suggested by leadership specialists are emotional intelligence, communication skills, confidence, a positive attitude, intuition, delegation skills and someone who is approachable.

A decline in trust

Last week the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures public trust in our main institutions reported that Australians’ trust in government at an all-time low.  Trust in business and the media also declined with Australia being in the bottom third of 28 countries surveyed.

Why is trust in government so low? Maybe Australians are sick and tired of the political dramas of recent years. The still-unfolding citizenship saga, party infighting and the infamous postal survey on marriage equality have taken their toll.

It’s left us hungry for authentic leadership, in both our political and corporate institutions.

We seek people who stand for something, who have values that they back up with actions; people who walk their talk.

Authentic leadership in political leaders

Can there be such a thing as an honest politician? While some may see this as a rhetorical question, wrapped around an oxymoron, your answer provides an insight to what you value in your own leadership behaviour.

Australians are known for their laid-back approach to politics. Not having had civil wars where we have had to fight for the right to vote or bloody battles over democracy will do that to a nation.

Despite the entreaty by political satirist P. J. O’Rourke to ‘Don’t vote; it just encourages the bastards’, we are a compliant lot. We obey our compulsory voting laws, regularly trot off to elections and obligingly number the boxes on voting forms in the hope that we will elect politicians who inspire us and do the right thing as leaders of our Councils, State Governments and our nation.

On first impressions, we are often prepared to give political candidates a ‘fair go’.

We assume people will be honest. That they will act with integrity.

After all, they are running for public office, so aren’t they holding themselves up to a higher standard than the rest of us?

And even if once elected, they are not perfect, we generally cut our politicians a lot of slack. We might not like it, but when we are told an election promise is being dropped because it is ‘non-core’ or ‘there will be no carbon tax’ or ‘no higher taxes’ we sigh and sort of expect it. If they do something wrong or stuff up, as long as they take responsibility and apologise, we (mostly) forgive them.

Don’t cross the line

However, there is a line in the sand of what Australians will and will not accept from our leaders.

When faced with dishonest, lying and hypocritical behaviour our ‘bull-shit radar’ goes up.

We can smell when someone is being deceptive, and we don’t like it. As a result, that person loses respect, and may even become an object of ridicule. If they are a politician, it becomes very hard for them to survive or get re-elected. If they are a manager, they risk losing the loyalty of employees.

Unfortunately, we can all point to examples of leaders in organisations and from both sides of politics where integrity, trustworthiness and honesty have been discarded for expediency or self-interest.

3 things we want in our leaders

Think of an authentic leader you admire (past or present) in political life, corporate Australia or the public service. What were their qualities that demonstrated integrity? I suggest that there are three essential aspects of someone’s character that makes them an authentic leader:

  • Authentic leaders have clear values. They are principled.
  • Authentic leaders stand for something and have standards about what is right and wrong. They are ethical.
  • Authentic leaders use their values to guide their actions – that is, the decisions they make, the way they behave and how they engage with others. They are consistent

Authentic leaders ‘walk their talk’; even when no one is watching. Because that’s who they are.   

We need more, authentic leaders

In a time of declining trust and increasing disappointment in Australian politics and business, it’s time we had more leaders that display integrity through their actions.

The Harvard Business Review has said that ‘Authenticity has become the gold standard for leadership.’ Thankfully, there are people meeting that standard. For inspiration, check out Victor Perton’s Australian Leadership Project which has a mission to “Celebrate, Understand and Improve Australian leadership” and includes hundreds of interviews with Australian Leaders.

Perhaps you may be lucky enough to work with, or be represented by, an authentic leader? What is it that inspires you about their values, behaviour and action?

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level and is a passionate supporter of authentic community leaders standing for public office. She works as a consultant in local government and is a gender equity advocate. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to Get Elected to public office. 

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4 ways to Filter Feedback

The candidate had just delivered a winning stump speech to a huge audience of potential voters in a local town hall. By the end of her pitch, she had many people on her side and left the forum elated. But just as she was finishing, a friend walked over and said, ‘I wanted to give you some feedback. What you should have done was …”

What followed was a critique of everything the candidate had done wrong that night; from what she was wearing to what she hadn’t talked about. Her friend thought he was being helpful, but his comments left the candidate in a deflated mood. Luckily this candidate was a coaching client of mine. As we discussed what happened, I was able to share with her a simple ‘feedback filter’ to consider when receiving feedback.

Unwanted feedback vs useful advice

Let’s face it.  Feedback – even when delivered with the best of intentions – can get your back up. Ever felt ambushed by someone’s opinions about your life or work when you haven’t even asked them to comment on what you’re doing?

I’m not talking about useful advice, provided in a helpful way by someone who knows their stuff. There’s a difference. For example, check your reaction when someone who knows nothing about your area of expertise says, “I want to give you some feedback” compared to an expert who asks, “can I give you some advice?” Most people will brace for the inevitable negative comments that come with the first statement yet may be curious to listen to advice from an expert.

The four feedback filters 

Here’s a straightforward way to filter feedback from the helpful to unhelpful. Its drawn from the excellent advice of Thought Leader and motivational speaker Matt Church, who writes about “When to listen to feedback” in his latest book NEXT. Matt (who is an expert!) advises:

“Not all feedback is good, constructive or useful. Take control and be strategic about who you listen to and what advice you take on board.” (Matt Church)

Based on this approach, it’s important to accept while that feedback can assist you to act, not all advice is good advice. Too much ‘white noise’ of others’ opinions can paralyse and confuse you, especially when it’s not asked for or comes from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Matt Church’s model is simple with an effective approach to classifying feedback into these four categories:

  • SOLICITED advice is when you ask for feedback from someone
  • UNSOLICITED advice is when someone just gives you advice, even when you didn’t ask for it.

Overlaying this is the second filter; qualified or not.

  • The people you receive the feedback from, are either an EXPERT on the topic and experienced or knowledgeable (i.e. qualified to speak on the topic). Or
  • They are NOT EXPERT, just someone who’s unqualified, giving you their opinion.

When to listen to feedback; diagram adapted from NEXT by Matt  Church

Quickly sort feedback

To understand what category feedback falls into, Matt suggests you ask yourself these two questions:

1) Did I ask for it? and 2) Is this person qualified to have an opinion?

If the person is unqualified to have an opinion and you didn’t ask for it, you have the option to ignore it. On the other hand, even if you didn’t ask for it, but the person is qualified, you may want to consider the feedback. If the person isn’t qualified but you asked for their feedback, there is an opportunity to take the information on board as data, that may or may not inform your action.

The real gold comes when you can ask an expert for feedback and they are willing to provide you with some informed advice.

That’s the sort of feedback worth acting on. For candidates in political campaign mode like my client, it is crucial to have a team of trusted advisers (often known as the Kitchen Cabinet) who can guide and provide feedback for action.

How to respond next time you get feedback you don’t want

If you’re tired of getting unsolicited ‘feedback’ from unqualified people with plenty of opinions, I suggest here are a few polite replies you could use:

  • “Thank you for your opinion”
  • “Thank you, you may be right”
  • “Thank you, however, I need to focus right now but next time I want your advice I’ll be sure to ask for it”
  • Simply smile, nod and move on

Ultimately, feedback and advice can be great, especially for showing up blind spots that you may not be aware of. However, feedback should lead to an improvement in your work, not stymie action or knock your confidence.

Perhaps next time you feel a desire to give someone feedback, consider if a) you are qualified and experienced to pass it on and b) if the person has asked for it. If it’s just a random opinion and the person has not asked for it, maybe hold your tongue!

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level. As a past Mayor, she mentors political candidates and was previously Campaign Coordinator for her sister Cathy McGowan’s successful political campaigns as an independent candidate for the Federal electorate of Indi. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Lets recognise Her Story too

It was one of those ‘ah ha’ moments you can get as a teenage girl when I realized the power of language. A poster for an exhibition of women’s stories was called “Her Story’. As I wandered through the inspiring displays of stories and photos of amazing women, I had the then-stunning realization that most of history is the recording of His Story, that’s why it was called history. Doh!  What a realisation for a budding feminist.

Why does Her Story matter?

Recognising and validating women’s stories as worthy additions to the public record is an important way of validating women’s worth. In fact, it is a pre-requisite to gender equality.

As a gender equality activist, last year I co-founded the Honour a Woman movement to further recognize women on the public record by working towards equality in our national awards system, with Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Carol Kiernan.

Honour a Woman have a bold goal. We want 5050 recognition of women in our national awards by the year 2020.

Whats wrong with our Gongs?

Receiving an Order of Australia, or The Gongs as they are affectionally known, generally relies on a citizen being confidentially nominated by a member of the community. Men are nominated at a higher rate than women – by both men and women. And, ever since Prime Minister Gough Whitlam introduced the awards in 1975, men have consistently received the lions share of the awards.

After 43 years, it’s surely time for Her Story to be recognized equally on our national public record.

While most Australians are enjoying a long weekend this Australia Day, our movement has been busy today counting up the numbers of women recognized in our national Australian Honours. It’s frustrating to note that yet again only one-third of the honours have gone to women. Having been awarded an OAM myself in 2014, I know this recognition is a great honour and I congratulate all who have been recognised today. However

In a country that prides itself on equality and fairness, how can men continue to receive the majority of our honours while many worthy women remain unacknowledged? The system does not reflect the rich diversity of our society.

The system is broken

Why are women consistently missing out? It’s like the many excuses around why there are low numbers of female CEOs in corporate Australia. We hear ‘women don’t put themselves forward’ or ‘there are not enough suitably qualified women’. *Yawn*

We’re tired of hearing the Canberra public servants who manage the award system saying that the problem lies with us, the citizens for not nominating enough women. Along with my co-founders, we’re getting impatient about inaction on the perennial gender imbalance which always favours male recipients of the Order of Australia. While the men are deserving, so are so many (absent) women.

I want more women to join me by being recognised with an Australian Honour. I want to see her achievements, her record, her story – all given the same prominence as men’s history.

It’s time for action

We’re now stepping up our advocacy to the Federal Government and are calling for gender targets to be immediately introduced into the Australian Honours to ensure women are equally acknowledged by the year 2020. As a passionate advocate for women’s leadership Carol Schwartz AM said today on ABC News, if the UK can do it and get equality and diversity as priorities in their UK New Year’s honours list, so can we!

In 2018 we will be lobbying the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer to introduce targets in our national awards so that we can fairly celebrate diversity while recognising outstanding service of all Australian citizens.

We’re saying that the Government must stop blaming the community for the low nominations of women.

The system doesn’t deliver equality or fairness. It’s time to change both the way people are nominated for Orders of Australia and the whole selection process. That’s why we believe that bringing in targets will drive fairness as well as better resourcing of States and Territories to put their own nominations forward.

What we really want is structural reform that commits to fairly recognising women and their outstanding contribution to the Australian community.

There is hope things will get better. After a year of effort as a volunteer, grass-roots movement Honour a Woman believes we are making a significant difference. Our advocacy and encouragement to thousands of Australians to nominate outstanding women is bearing fruit.

Today, the Victorian Government has announced the appointment of a dedicated awards officer who will focus on organising an additional 200 nominations of Victorian women each year to ensure a gender balance. It’s great to see State leadership on real action to address this inequality.

Also, today the public servants that manage the selection process announced a 40% increase in the past year of nominations for women. This is a result of the fantastic work by everyone who has nominated a woman recently.

Will you help us reach our goal of equality in the honours? Nominate an outstanding woman from your community or profession and get her story on the public record. Download the form here.

For more information on our movement see this week’s article on our Push for Gender Targets in the Order of Australia in the Australian Financial Review

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government and gender equity advocate. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.

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Ever considered it?


Have I lost your interest right there with that one word? Are you like the ever-increasing numbers of voters disillusioned by politicians? Sick of the fighting, the inaction, the bullshit? Frustrated by the inability of those in power – be it at a Federal level, State or Local Council – to get anything done?

Have you, like many citizens, turned off politics? Or… are you still interested enough in the way the world works to care about how the system can be improved?

 If you still believe in democracy and think you could do a better job than those currently in power, why not consider standing for public office?

Now more than ever, the timing is right for passionate citizens wanting to change the system, to step up and stand for election. This coincides with a voter hunger for a new type of politician; an ordinary person ‘just like us’.

Could politics be your next career move?

We need a new type of representation

It’s no secret that Australians are disenchanted with politics. Last year a university poll of 2600 Australians found that three out of four Australians are disillusioned with politics in this country.

Increasingly Australians see politicians as being out of touch with their life experiences not reflecting the ‘average’ voter. Research on Federal politicians, reported last year found that “nearly half of all Liberal MPs were former political staffers, party officials or government advisers while inside the Labor caucus, 55% of MPs had previously worked as staffers, electorate officers or advisers before being elected, while 40% have previously worked in roles within the trade union movement”. (Fairfax media)

Without disrespecting people working in political offices or trade unions, that experience doesn’t really represent the working lives of the rest of the nation. Perhaps that’s why voters are increasingly looking outside the main political parties for people to represent their views; not only in Australia but around the world in western democracies.

The ‘political class’ is on the nose.

We need diverse representation 

At the last Federal election, a quarter of Australians gave their preference to parties other than Labor and the Coalition, a trend that has been rising for the past 10 years. Voters want to support more and more ‘ordinary people’ to put their hand up and prioritise a career in politics.  People with a vision. People who believe in what they are doing. People who know that power is worth pursuing because when you are ‘in the tent’ you can make and influence decisions that will benefit communities, businesses and our planet for the better.

It’s like shopping at Aldi or FoodWorks, instead of just Woolworths and Coles. Increasingly voters are turning away from the two major parties, Labor and the Coalition, towards independents and minor parties to channel their angst about the current political system. They’re voting for people who don’t come from a political background; independents such as  Jacqui, Nick, Andrew and Cathy and others from micro parties such as Ricky, Pauline, Derryn, Clive,  Rebecca and Bob.

What are you waiting for?

The rigid 2-party system is under threat. Australians are hungry for political representation from independents, populists and ordinary people. That leaves scope for potential candidates to stand as independents or even for a micro-party.

If you’re intelligent, interested in politics, community-minded and skilled at communicating your passion, politics could be a terrific way of making a real difference in your community.

If not you then who? If not now, then when?

So, could politics be your next career move? Why not have a crack at standing for Local Council, a shot at State Government or maybe even fancy yourself as a Federal politician? Need some inspiration? Check out some of the speeches from those independents (or watch a few old episodes of West Wing).

You never know, politics could be your calling and just what your part of the world needs right now.

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level. As a past Mayor, she mentors political candidates and was previously Campaign Coordinator for her sister Cathy McGowan’s successful political campaigns as an independent candidate for the Federal electorate of Indi. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office.
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Want to be a Politician?

Seeking a political candidate – opportunities now open

Looking for an exciting public sector job where you can make a positive difference? If you have a strong desire to leave a positive legacy, as well as an unwavering conviction in your belief that you can do a better job than the current employee, then this could be the career for you

In our Australian office, there are three entry levels for this role; councillor, State or Federal Member of Parliament. The office is located in your electorate but will require successful MP candidates to relocate to state parliament house or Canberra for approximately half the year. 

Our Client

The Australian people are governed at three levels from local government, State or Territory and Federal. Our nation’s success is driven by a passionate team of visionary leaders who strive every day to make their clients (the Australian people) prosperous, happy and safe. Your constituents are great to work with, and by and large leave you alone to do your task. Feedback is delivered spasmodically through the ballot box, and can be ruthless if you fail to deliver on your promises and expectations of the role.

The Role

Reporting to your constituents, you will help drive a strategic direction for the council, the State or nation. You will lead performance through the development and guidance of a team of fellow politicians while providing a results-driven and safe working environment that promotes open communication and empowerment across all levels. In addition, you will manage key relationships with stakeholders to ensuring advocacy of your constituents needs and avoid conflicts of interests. You must apply good governance at all levels or severe penalties apply.

Your daily workload is significant but will vary depending on what areas, issues or portfolios you’re interested in and the level of responsibility you desire. There are opportunities for promotion to Mayor, Minister, Premier or ultimately Prime Minster depending on the location you choose for the role.

In addition to the satisfaction that you will be making an extraordinary difference in your community, there are plenty of perks in this job including payment, variety, potential career progression and opportunities to meet some incredible people.

Your Skills and Experience

You will have a track record as an inspiring leader who operates from a place of integrity, compassion and honesty. You will demonstrate excellent communication skills and confidence in your ability to change the world for the better. Your relationship building skills will be second to none and you may require a thick skin as well as the political savvy to adapt to an ever-changing political environment. Innovative thinking is crucial and you’ll also need to enjoy operating in a competitive workplace with long days. An appreciation for good manners, respect for all citizens and ability to work hard is essential.

To view more on the issues impacting on this role view @twitter #auspol 

To Apply

To take advantage of this challenging and varied opportunity, please submit your application to the Australian people explaining why you would like their vote. The selection committee is vast and comprises adult citizens who need to be convinced why they should put their confidence in you. Note, when applying for this role, please ensure you have accurately met all requirements under the relevant Act and the Australian Constitution (Be aware of your due diligence around S44 if applying for a Federal position).

Applications – ongoing

Applications now being called for through a pre-selection process for the following positions:

  • Apply to the 546 local councils across Australia and join 6,600 other councillors
  • Apply to residents of the six states and two Territories to be an MP; New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory
  • Apply to residents of the 150 seats in the Australia Federal Parliament to join the 150 members of the House of Representatives or the 76 members of the Senate

[Note: The Australia people are equal opportunity employers and all diverse applications from various cultural backgrounds, gender, political parties or independents will be considered favourably].

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government and is passionate seeing good community leaders get into politics! As a past Mayor, she now delivers Get Elected training to Mayors and councillors and was the campaign coordinator for the successful election of her sister, Cathy McGowan MP, as an independent to Australian Federal Parliament in campaigns of 2013 & 2016.

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You can’t say that!

A capable young woman was recently elected to an all-male council. The Mayor was reported in the local paper saying “It’s pleasing to have a lady back in the council to make sure the men look after themselves”. Groan!

It’s 2017 and people really shouldn’t be saying things like that to female colleagues in the workplace. Despite an increase in workplace programs addressing gender equality, diversity and inclusion, patronising and sexist language still happens.

This can be subtle, with language that both men and women may think of as ‘normal’.

However, just because some words may be in common use doesn’t make them OK.

As the Chair of the Diversity Council Australia David Morrison AO says, ‘language can cut people out or cut people down’. What if you were unconsciously discriminating against women colleagues, all because of the words you used?

If you want to be consciously inclusive, here’s my guide of 10 things NOT to say to women in the workplace

1. Don’t call us Ladies

Often used ironically, this word can be awkward that is because traditionally the word ‘lady’ implies domestic servitude (‘cleaning lady’) or nobility (think Downtown Abby’s ‘Lady of the house’). Neither contexts apply to the workplace.

2. Hi Guys

Consistently referring to your peers or audience as ‘guys’ is a subtle way of saying ‘women don’t belong here’. As Diversity Council Chief Executive Lisa Annese says “There are [gender] neutral alternatives that we can pick. Instead of saying, ‘hey guys’ or ‘hello ladies’, why not say, ‘hi everyone’, ‘hi team’?”

3. Girls

Never call a group of adult women ‘girls’. Too often women working in administration or finance are referred to as ‘the girls at the front desk’ or people say, ‘I’ll get the girls in finance to do it’. It is demeaning and offensive. It’s a workplace, not primary school!

4. Avoid personal comments

It’s best to keep the workplace professional and avoid personal comments. Commenting about a co-worker’s physical appearance (such as weight, clothes or makeup) is considered unprofessional. Not sure? Here’s the test; if your boss was Gail Kelly (former CEO of Westpac) or Alan Joyce (CEO Qantas) would you make a comment on her/his clothes or weight? Hmmm…probably not.

5. The kid or husband questions

See 4 above. Unless a woman brings it up, children (or lack thereof) are her own business. So never ask “when are you going to have kids? Do you have kids? Are you going to have any more kids?”  Same for husband/partner – it really is none of your business to ask, if she has one or “what does your husband do?”.

6. Darling/babe/sweetie/love

This is the boardroom, not the bedroom. Keep the endearments out of the workplace.

7. Where did you come from?

In Australia’s multicultural cultural society, a person of colour or diverse cultural background is just as likely to have come from the ‘burbs of Melbourne as overseas. Questions such as “So, where are you really from?” reinforce a sense of ‘otherness’ as in code for ’you’re not from here’. If it matters to her, she’ll bring it up.

8. Chairman

Try to use gender-neutral terms. Such as ‘Chairperson’ or ‘Chair’. We don’t call a man a Chairwoman so why call a woman Chairman?

9. Versions of ‘Shut up’

Hopefully most people would never say this to a woman but unfortunately, in my work as a coach, women regularly tell me how they’ve been told to ‘Calm down’ or ‘stop being bossy’, or ‘you ask too many questions’. All comments designed to silence and put her down.

10. And then there’s ‘invisible misogyny’

There are many other ways language can subtly ‘cut out’ women. Be alert and avoid these terms or, if someone else uses them, call it out. These are recognisable because there’s no equivalent for men. Such as ‘she’s opinionated’ (he’s ‘knowledgeable’), ‘she’s feisty’ (he’s ‘passionate’) and terms such as ‘motherhood statement’ (shorthand for waffle).

Finally, still not sure what not to say to a woman in the workplace? Here’s the test; if you wouldn’t say it to a man, don’t say it to a woman.

It’s really not that hard for all of us to be a bit more inclusive in our choice of words. Numerous studies show there’s a big incentive to get this right as inclusive language not only improves workplace culture, it also bolsters productivity.

The last word goes to David Morrison, speaking about the #WordsAtWork program who said this is “not about being ‘politically correct’ – it is about encouraging people to use language at work which is respectful, accurate, and relevant to everyone”.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant and coach in local government. She delivers training in gender equality and good governance to councils, organisations and not-for-profits. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.

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3 Tactics of Resilient Leaders

It’s true. Change is inevitable. Bad stuff happens to good people. Competitors flourish.

Successful leaders are prepared for all this and more and they remain resilient in the face of stress on their organisation, community and themselves.

Resilience is a vital skill for leaders to build.  Because when change hits, resilient leaders bend but don’t break. When disaster strikes, resilient leaders deal with it and then bounce right back. When things get comfortable, resilient leaders adapt and stay ahead of the curve.

The good news is that resilience can be learnt. There are key characteristics of resilient leaders which, when deliberately incorporated into a leader’s approach, can help him/her to remain robust under stressful events.

This is backed up by research by business adviser Diane Coutu (Harvard Business Review) who has written about the three traits shown by resilient people. She says these characteristics are “an acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise”.

In my role, I work with many leaders across local government and rural communities. Some are more robust than others and like an elastic band, they bounce back when stretched. These are the three main tactics of resilient leaders I have observed, which take them successfully through change.

Be a realist (not an optimist)

The Black Saturday bushfires of summer 2009 remain the biggest disaster in Australian history. I was one of more than a dozen Mayors who led our communities through the immediate response to the disaster and then the recovery period for the months and years that followed. I learned a lot from the various community leaders involved, and it wasn’t always from the people in power but from people from all sorts of backgrounds and professions.

The leaders I admired were effective in getting stuff done and were realists. They saw problems yet didn’t wait for other solve them or hope they’d ‘get lucky’. They planned ahead for what could go wrong, peered into the future and asked, ‘what if?’ They then swung plans into action to mitigate problems.

 Thinking like a ‘realistic pessimist’ and planning ahead for changes (good and bad) is essential for resilience.

That’s why risk management is such an integral part of organisational planning. Think of Kodak’s failure to plan ahead for the impact of digital cameras. Identifying what could go wrong, assessing likelihood and impact and then designing treatments to mitigate risks is a fundamental strategy for resilient leaders.

Stay focused on values

Resilient leaders have a deep sense and understanding of why they do what they do. This keeps them focussed through tough times. In the months following the Black Saturday bushfire, I saw community leaders from all walks of life step up in response to the disaster including people from the emergency services, government, churches, service clubs, and many different community groups.

These people worked tirelessly to assist those affected by the disaster to recover by helping repair fences on farms, providing counselling support to stricken survivors to organising social events to help re-connect devastated communities. If you were to ask anyone of these community leaders why they were there, the answer would be ‘because it’s the right thing to do and I wanted to help someone out in need’. These leaders demonstrated their values of kindness and compassion through their work.

When stressful times hit, resilient leaders tap into the fact their work has meaning.

Adapt or go backwards

Anyone who’s ever run a business or led a community group reliant on grant funding knows that innovation and improvisation are essential for survival. As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change’’. In a world of rapid change, staying the same will take you backwards.

Resilient leaders are open to new ideas that can assist them to respond to change.

Instead of staying comfortable with their worldview, resilient leaders actively seek out the views of others who think differently to them, including diverse voices from different cultural backgrounds, genders, ages and life experiences.

This is what I’ve learnt about the tactics of resilient leaders:

  1. They think ahead with a realistic view of what can go wrong, so when it does they are prepared.
  2. Their values are congruent with their work which keeps them focussed through tough times.
  3. Diverse views are welcomed which supports flexible thinking in adapting to change.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government. She delivers training to Mayors and councillors on topics such as Resilient Leadership through Change and coaches on successful leadership. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.

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3 ways a mediocre Mayor needs to become masterful

The leadership skills of the Mayor can set the tone of how well a council performs and the wider community reputation. But what makes a great Mayor? You know it when you see it; it’s the difference between a mediocre or masterful performance.

A masterful Mayor is competent, committed and connected.

She or he, can lead a community through disruptive times, advocate for needed change and collaborate with a range of players to translate community wishes into action. But with a mediocre Mayor in charge, the term ‘clowns in city hall’ will be heard.

A friend recently told me of her frustration at a council ‘community consultation’ meeting she had attended about a planning issue. The Mayor turned up late and then proceeded to run a badly chaired meeting, leaving the audience frustrated they hadn’t been able to have their say on a contentious planning proposal. If this scenario sounds familiar, then your Mayor needs these three tips on how to move from mediocre to masterful.

Be Competent

At a basic level, Mayors are required to perform the legislative and functional roles of the Local Government Act.  A mediocre Mayor takes a casual ‘tick-the-box’ approach to the role; maybe relishing in the status but doing little else.  Masterful Mayors uses their skills to elevate the role into one where they are recognised as an inspirational community leader.

A masterful Mayor is skilled at chairing meetings; at councils, business and community functions. When s/he is in charge the meeting is on time, everyone gets the chance to have their say and good governance reigns. Sadly, the opposite is often observed when the loudest voices monopolise the conversation, meetings go overtime and don’t run to an agenda.

Competent Mayors articulate a vision for the council which is aligned with the community’s needs and wants and translates this into action.

Then, when their term is over, they can look back and go “I achieved that!” and leave a legacy.

Masterful Mayors collaborate skilfully with their fellow Councillors to get action in the chamber while modelling respectful conduct. Using their emotional intelligence, they nurture the important relationship with the CEO and respect the skills and experience of council staff.

Be Committed

Done properly, being a Mayor is a full-time job. On any given day there’s breakfast meeting with business groups, all day appointments, finishing with community meetings in the evenings. For Mayors of large municipalities, travel around the electorate also involves a lot of time.  When I was Mayor, I worked 12-14-hour days, including weekends which averaged as an 80+ hour week. But I was committed to the role and dedicated myself full time to the job.

In my experience, a Councillor must be 100% dedicated to doing the role of Mayor.

Mayors do get paid. The pay varies across Australia from $60,000 per year in smaller rural councils in Victoria to over $300,000 for the Lord Mayor in Brisbane.   When that salary comes from the pockets of ratepayers, I believe that a Mayor has an obligation to the community to focus 100% on the job.

When a Mayor is fully committed to the role s/he can also demonstrate good governance and avoid potential conflicts of interest or the perception that they are moonlighting on the side.

Be Connected

A skilful Mayor is connected at all levels; including other levels of government, community and with fellow Councillors. S/he will be on first name terms with the local State and Federal government members and meet with them regularly to advocate for the council and community.

Connected Mayors use their community contacts to network with various groups in the municipality; not just the loud, powerful vested interests. A masterful Mayor uses his/her connections to listen to diverse views and then feeds back the issues to council for action. A connected Mayor is also a great communicator, able to reach out to people with confidence and project gravitas.

What’s your Mayor like? Is your council electing the most appropriately skilled Councillor for the role – or is it going to someone as a ‘reward’ for long service or because of factional deals between Councillors? If you’ve got an opinion on who you want to see as your next Mayor, have a chat to your local Councillor and let your views be known. And if that doesn’t work, why not think about standing for council yourself next elections and maybe you will become the next Mayor!

Ruth McGowan OAM is a past Mayor and Councillor. She coaches and mentors Mayors and runs training for local government – all of which gives her a unique insight into what makes a masterful Mayor.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

What Would Jacinda Do?

Use WWJD to build your skills

Last week Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister. At 37 years old, she is also the world’s youngest female leader on the international stage.

I’ve been watching Jacinda’s campaign since she became the leader of the NZ Labour party less than three months ago. Her approach to successfully realising her ambition at a relatively young age is an inspiration for anyone interested in standing for public office.

If you need some strategies to hone your political or leadership skills, it’s time to channel your ‘inner Jacinda’.

Build your skills and confidence by asking yourself ‘What Would Jacinda Do?” Here are six steps to take for the WWJD approach and win at politics.

1 – Set your goals and work hard 

A passion to make the world a better place, from a young age can fuel a political career. Jacinda has said, that growing up in a small-town, she was moved by the inequality of poor students at her school who turned up in bare-feet, unable to afford shoes. She joined the Labour Party at 17, became involved in social justice movements, volunteered in a soup kitchen in New York then worked in the office of UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Known for her strong work ethic, at the age of 28 she became the youngest elected NZ Member of Parliament in 2008.  Now, as PM, she has pledged to tackle social issues such as child poverty and affordable housing.  

2 – Get yourself some mentors

Aspiring leaders can benefit from the support of mentors to help them access and maintain power. Ardern credits her Auntie, Marie Ardern, with getting her into politics as a teen.  Marie, a longstanding member of the Labour Party, promised the 16-year-old “I’ll teach you a little about politics” and brought the young Jacinda along to local campaigns for practical experience.  After graduating from university, Jacinda worked for NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark, who mentored the young Jacinda.  Now, as New Zealand’s third female PM, it’s fitting that Jacinda will, in turn, become an inspirational role model for women and girls all over the world.

3 – Build alliances, coalitions and networks 

If you really want to deliver change, then you need to build your influence.Jacinda is a master at building coalitions and networks; all in the name of developing a force for change. This has involved cooperation with such unlikely alliances as Winston Peters, to build a coalition government with the New Zealand First party and managed compromises with the Greens to guarantee supply.

“I’m not willing to do politics as usual — I do bring a different approach, I favour being able to collaborate where I can.” Jacinda Adern,ABC

4 – Be diplomatic and SMILE

Follow the first rule in politics; ‘turn up and be nice’. Jacinda in campaign mode followed this rule an added her personal twist of an enormous smile. In addition, her diplomacy is seen to be a key strength. It’s a no-brainer that voters want to elect someone to represent them whom they can both trust and relate to as a ‘normal’ person who seems approachable. The wave of ‘Jacindamania’ that swept NZ prior to her election showed that a lot of people warmed to her charisma. She was also praised for her diplomatic handling of incidents such as comments by Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of “foreign interference” by NZ and questions from a male journalist on her intentions to become a mother.

5 – Millennials grab your moment

It’s time for the Gen Ys and Millennials to stand up as political leaders. Jacinda’s election as PM aligns with the generational shift seen by the recent election of other young world leaders. This includes Austria’s likely next chancellor, Sebastian Kurz (31); the Irish PM, Leo Varadkar (38); French President Emmanuel Macron (39); and the (young-ish) Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau (45). It seems the world has an appetite for youthful leaders.

6 – Never give up

It’s not over until it’s over As New Zealanders waited more than three weeks to hear who would be their next PM, Jacinda never gave up working the deal; even reportedly bringing a ginger cake to discussions with Winston Peters. The news finally came through 26 days after election day. Jacinda showed patience and ambition in equal measures, never losing her cool.

Next time you need to channel your inner Jacinda, take a moment to ask yourself What Would Jacinda Do?

Ruth McGowan OAM works as a consultant and trainer in Local Government. She is passionate about gender equality and supports women to run for political office through her Get Elected workshops. (She’s also got a bit of a fan-girl crush on Jacinda Ardern) 

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