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Council CEO Churn hits a high; why?

Right now, if you’re a Chief Executive Officer in charge of a Victorian council, I reckon you would be hanging on pretty tightly to your seat.

That’s because the last two years have seen an enormous change in the local government sector with ‘CEO churn’ at an all-time high.

Thirty-Three. That’s the number of CEO roles that have been up for grabs across the Victorian Local Government sector in the past 20 months; a massive 42% in 2017 & 2018. And you can bet there will be a few more CEO roles up for grabs by the end of the year.

From tiny Buloke shire in the north-west (pop 6300) to the enormous City of Casey on the edge of Melbourne (approx. 300,000 people) both have recently appointed new CEOs.

It’s the same all across Victoria. From Moyne shire in the south-west to East Gippsland it feels like every second council has or is looking for, a new CEO.

Why the movement?

Given that there are only 79 councils in Victoria local government, it’s not considered unusual to have up to ten CEO roles advertised in any one year. However, recently, many of the ‘more-senior’ CEOs have retired and are enjoying a well-deserved break from what can be a full on (yet rewarding) job.

Ambitious, younger CEOs have moved to larger councils to advance their careers. Others simply haven’t had their contract renewed by Councillors or have been unceremoniously ‘moved on’ after failing to satisfy the elected representatives.

Perhaps the current surge in appointments has to do with the election cycle.

Under the Local Government Act, Councillors have only one employee to hire and manage -their CEO. Previous council elections (October 2016) saw around a 50 % turnover of Councillors. With a new bunch of elected representatives, sometimes Councillors don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with the direction of a previous council. Fairly or unfairly, some may attribute past council action (or inaction) to the current CEO. As a result, sometimes Councillors will seek a change in direction by searching for a new CEO.

At other times, a CEO might see ‘the writing on the wall’ and choose to resign in their own time, rather than being ‘pushed’ by a new council. Sometimes a CEO may choose to leave in the middle of the Councillor term, enabling Councillors sufficient time to recruit a new CEO and settle him/her in prior to the next election (October 2020).

Does it matter?

What are the implications of this level of ‘churn’ in the sector and does it really matter? Perhaps change is good for Councillors who want to avoid complacency, and the risk of a CEO becoming complacent, or one who stops listening and delivering results.

How long should a CEO stay? A Harvard Business Review article on this topic suggests seven years, plus or minus two as  ‘a reasonable number: seven years is probably the period of maximum effectiveness for most people in what can be a very stressful job’[i]. They suggest there are three phases to a CEO job which evolves from the Entry stage to Consolidation and then Decline.

Ideally, a CEO will realise it is time to move on when they are “at that sweet spot of being at the peak of their performance, just before the decline”. 

Councillors need to skill-up

The other impact of all this CEO recruitment activity is that many Councillors who have never employed a CEO before, are suddenly finding themselves having to build their knowledge and skills around the process of executive recruitment, placement and performance management.

The fact is, that Councillors come from all walks of life and few have experience in hiring staff at the executive level.

Many simply don’t have the skills to employ staff at the level and salary of a contemporary Council CEO. Typically a council will spend approximately $30-60,000 on the CEO recruitment process. It can involve hundreds of hours of Councillors’ time as they engage a recruitment agency, advertise widely, select and interview candidates and finally manage the placement of the preferred candidate

At times, this means Councillors may put blind trust in the executive search agency and take a ‘hands-off’ approach when they really could be paying more attention to the whole process for their ‘one employee’.

It is important for Councillors to successfully manage the recruitment of a new CEO and get it right the first time. They certainly don’t want to waste ratepayers’ funds by having to go back to the beginning because of a ‘dud’ appointment.

Independent advice is important

Many Councillors are recognising the value of independent support to guide them through the CEO recruitment process.

Increasingly, as part of my consultancy services, I am being approached by Councillors who are seeking assistance from an independent expert who has no conflict of interest in CEO placement and can, therefore, advise Councillors on what they need to know, manage and avoid. They see this as an important investment in due diligence.

The importance of independent support in CEO employment has also been recognised by the Victorian State Government who have proposed a new Local Government Bill (currently before Parliament) to deliver greater transparency in CEO employment. The Act requires Councils to develop and adopt a CEO Employment and Remuneration policy and to obtain independent professional advice in relation to the matters dealt with the CEO employment.

There is an unprecedented level of CEO churn in Victorian councils at the moment. With all this change it is heartening to see many Councillors seeking independent advice and support with the recruitment process to help them employ an outstanding candidate for the council team, officers and the municipality. Please get in touch if I can assist.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant to local government and supports Councillors as an independent adviser in the recruitment of their CEO. She is a former Mayor, Councillor and has been on a number of boards where she has been involved in CEO recruitment.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Want to run for politics?

You have a desire to change the world for the better and think you can make a difference. You’re curious about getting involved in politics. And why not you? Especially if you are young, or female or from a diverse cultural background. Take a look around at who’s representing you and you will find that one thing’s for sure – we need greater diversity in our parliaments and councils.

Before you dive into campaign mode, here’s six things to ask yourself before you ask others to ‘VOTE FOR ME’.

1)    Why are you running? Capture your issue clearly.

First, you must be clear why you are running. In my experience it’s usually one of 3 things; Candidates are pissed off, or they are passionate, or they are political.

Some candidates are so angry with the government or local council that their outrage drives them to run.

Others are so passionate about a cause that they want to get into politics in order to make things better for their community, or the environment or the local economy.

Then there are those who see politics as a way to acquire power. Generally, these people are either be altruists or love the combat of Party Politics.

Once you are clear on why you are running, write it down in a simple sentence to articulate why someone should vote for you (and not the other mob).

2)    What is the job and can you do it?

It’s one thing to want to run for office, it’s quite another thing to have the ability to do the job well and confidently represent your constituents.

In a democracy anyone can run for office but it doesn’t mean everyone can do it.


  1. Are you eligible? The citizenship fiasco showed that many politicians failed to read and understand the fine print when they ran for federal parliament in 2017/18. Don’t make that mistake. Make sure you read the eligibility criteria in the Candidate Handbook which is printed by the Australian Electoral Commission. Follow the rules for eligibility on where and when you can nominate to run for office.
  2. Are you competent? Consider doing a ‘personal skills audit’ to see if you have what it takes to do the job, or identify where you need to build your experience (for example in public speaking).
  3. Do you have the confidence? It helps to have both personal confidence in your abilities as well as the confidence of a support team to assist your campaign.

3)    Where will you run? Pick your level of government.

There are over 5700 opportunities to get elected at a local, state or federal level in Australia.

This includes:

  • Local government – approximately 5000 Councillor roles across 530 councils
  • State and Territory government – several hundred roles in various Lower and Upper Houses
  • Federal Parliament – House of representatives (150) and the Senate (76)

To decide where you will stand, do your research. Perhaps chat with a local councillor or State or Federal member about his/her role. Also, check out #AusPol on twitter.

4)    How will you run? Will you join a party or be an independent?

Traditionally, the simplest route into politics has been to join a major party. It’s certainly the pathway for the vast majority of candidates get elected. However, with the increasing dissatisfaction in party politics, more voters are putting No. 1 next to independent candidates or those from minor parties.

Consider- will you join a minor party or stand as an independent? Maybe you could even start your own party!  Or, will you go the major-party route and seek the backing of the ALP, Liberal, Nationals or Greens? But beware. It can be a bruising experience to fight for pre-selection to be the representative candidate for one of the major parties.

Will you party or not? It comes down to your personal philosophy, preferences, and pragmatism.

5)    When to run? Time your race.

Currently, in the federal system, the Prime Minister can call an election any time, as long as parliament doesn’t run for more than three years. It’s a bit more complicated for the Senate.

However, for  State and Local Governments, most elections are now run on a ‘fixed term’ basis. This means that election dates are set by law and everyone knows the date of the election day well in advance. For instance, in Victoria, the state election is held every four years on the last Saturday in November and two years apart, local council elections are held on the third Saturday in October.

There are three times to run for an election; now, later or too late.

Politics is a hard job. The toll on your personal life can be brutal as Federal MP Tim Hammond explained as he resigned from parliament earlier this year. It may also disrupt your professional aspirations. If you need to consider family obligations and career options, later on, may be an option.

If you leave it too late to start your run for office, you can miss the boat. When elections are only every four years you may lose the chance to swing support behind your cause because the electorate may have moved on.

If you are serious about public office, the best time to think about running is now.

That’s because with fixed terms, campaigns can run over four years and your competitor’s campaign has probably already started. There are opportunities right now to think about running with a Federal election coming up, local council elections in Tasmania and South Australia and Victorian State elections in November.

6)    What will you do? Time to decide

Finally, there is only one more thing to do; decide if you will run for public office.

You’ve thought about:

  • Why you are running – on the issues important to you
  • What is the job – whether you can do it
  • Where you will run – the level of government
  • How you will run – independent or with a minor or major party
  • When you will run – now or later or too late

If you decide that your answer is ‘no, not for me’ then I hope you can support someone else to run for office on their campaign team or financially.

However, if you say ‘YES!’ then, hello candidate and good luck!

Ruth McGowan OAM is a community activist, councillor coach and consultant to local government. She is a champion for more women in local government and delivers training on political campaigning. In 2018 she is writing Get Elected! an Australian guide to political campaigning follow her on twitter @hula_grl  

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

What dirty politics can teach you about protecting your brand

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone: (Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi)

Like most Australians, you are probably becoming increasingly disillusioned by the behaviour of our politicians. It seems like it’s just getting worse. The latest sexist name-calling by a Senator just compounds the low opinions many have for those elected to public office. It comes on top of a year of affairsscandals and the citizenship saga.  *Sigh*

However, instead of just shaking your head at the dirty tricks – what if you could actually learn something useful from the dark art of politics? Something that could help you protect your brand and shore up your reputation?

Domain theft

Recently, a political dirty trick has shone a light on ‘your name’ domain theft. A tactic that competitors can use to deliver serious implications for your brand, your business or your political campaign.

Domain hijacking. If you haven’t heard of it before you have now. Read on.

Political dirty tricks

This is what happened. Last year, the former premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally ran as a Labor candidate for the federal seat of Bennelong. The by-election was announced when the former sitting Liberal member John Alexander, had to resign after being caught up in the citizenship bungle. Kristina Keneally announced she would challenge the seat.

However, both the candidate and her advisers, failed in one massive way before she even began her formal campaign. They failed to buy up the digital real-estate that could protect her brand.

On the day Ms Keneally announced her candidacy, Buzzfeed reported that “Domain registration records show the NSW division of the {Liberal} party took ownership of the website … at 11:30pm that night”.  They proceeded to fill this website with content unflattering to the candidate.

A dirty trick? Sure. But in politics, some people think that ‘anything goes’ in the battle to win votes.

Could it happen to you?

Dirty tactics like this can prompt you to think about the safety of your digital real estate. Do you own your domain name with either the .com or suffix?

As a political coach, I advise anyone considering running for public office to purchase their name as  .com and before publicly announcing their candidacy.  

In the end, it’s a lot cheaper to buy a couple of domain names than to have to pay money to purchase it back. It’s also cheaper than having to fight a court case to get back what is rightfully yours.

If you don’t own your name domain, is it time to buy? It’s a relatively cheap policy to protect against having your name and brand sullied by a competitor who has no scruples about playing dirty.

Fake news could hit you too

In a world of ‘fake news’ a competitor can set up a website in your name, fill it with unflattering stories or lies.

Unfortunately, people are gullible and many could truly believe what they are reading on a fake website about you is legitimate.

Hillary Clinton recently visited Australia and I was one of the thousands that were privileged to hear this global leader talk about her life and political campaigns. It was sobering to hear about the negative impact of several false news stories in the 2016 US presidential election campaign. Many people genuinely believed the fake news stories spread to discredit her. This included made-up stories such as Pope Francis endorsing competitor Donald Trump and allegations that Hillary Clinton had sold weapons to ISIS.

Besides fake news, there are other tactics that could affect your digital footprint. I’ve heard of businesses where competitors have purchased the domain name and then ‘cyber-squat’. They buy the name (or one very similar to the business name) but do nothing with it, in an effort to block potential customers trying to reach the genuine business online. Apparently, these cases are on the rise and can pose a real threat to businesses.

Protect your brand

Heard the story about the multi-millionaire who bought the property next door and then bulldozed it down? All to protect his sea view and deliver serenity forever without annoying neighbours blocking the vista?

Fortunately, the option to buy your domain name is a lot cheaper than buying the house next door but it can also deliver significant peace of mind.

Think of it as an investment in brand name insurance.

Take a lesson from dirty politics. If you are working in a tough business environment, consider that a competitor could buy a domain name similar to your name (personal or business name) and use it to malign your brand.

Your domain name is rightfully yours so protect against theft. You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone but don’t leave it until it is too late.

Ruth McGowan OAM coaches political candidates, community leaders and trains councillors. She also writes about women in politics and how to Get Elected! 

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How to make a tough decision a good decision

“What ought one do?” a question often asked by leaders when considering how to make a tough decision a good decision.

It’s a question the great philosopher Plato put to his wise teacher Socrates, around 400 years BC as they sat in the Greek Agora, probably discussing the political issues of the day.

I like to imagine that, in response, Socrates turned to his bright precocious student, gave a big sigh and delivered his philosophy advice on an ethical decision by saying something like:

 “It’s pretty simple Plato, one must follow one’s purpose and do what is good and right”. 

But if it was that simple why is our trust in politicians and those who lead our corporations and financial institutions at such a low in terms of public satisfaction?  What can today’s leaders learn from those ancient Greek philosophers that’s useful when considering how to make tough decisions and stay true to what is good?

What the Greeks left us to think about

Socrates’ teaching has informed philosophical discussion on morals and ethics for the past two millennia. Perhaps you have heard of his famous quote that the unexamined life is not worth living.

For many leaders, this call to examine the purpose of life, can be a useful prompt to examine the values that drive your behaviour in life, work and public office.

Like Plato, leaders have been pondering the question of “what should I do?” ever since those ancient times when democracy seemed like a brilliant idea for those Athenians.

Unfortunately, the Athenians didn’t think to include women, foreigners or slaves in their democracy; that would come eventually many centuries later (women finally got the vote in 1952). However, although suffering from a severe case of unconscious bias towards anyone that wasn’t an adult, of male gender or a Greek citizen, the great philosophers did leave western civilisation with a useful ethical framework to assist us to think through how to make good decisions.

The three considerations of making a difficult decision a good one

As part of my work, I coach Mayors and deliver training to local government councillors in good governance. Discussions cover issues such as how to manage potential conflicts of interests or how to ensure fair consultation when gathering information to assist in their decision making. Often circumstances arise where a councillor needs to make a tough decision about ‘what ought I do’.

By taking a philosophical approach to decision making we can consider three components of thinking. These have been outlined by ethicist Dr Simon Longstaff of The Ethics Centre in his very practical book, Everyday Ethics.

According to Dr Longstaff, ethics “can be viewed through the prism of values, principles and purpose”. This forms the basic structure of human choice and hence decision making.

Three questions

When it comes to making a tough decision, I suggest to leaders that this ethical framework can assist them. Put simply, it’s these three questions:

  1. What are your values that underpin your choices about what is good?

Dr Longstaff calls values the “guideposts giving you direction on your life journey”. Can you list yours? If you need a prompt, there are various check lists and tests on-line you can take to determine your values.

2. Is your decision informed by a framework of principles that covers what is right?

The principles that inform what is right could be religious (such as “do unto others what you would have them do to you”) or even legislation such as the good governance rules of a Local Government Act. Can you list some of your principles?

3. It your decision aligned to your purpose of why you are here?

It can be useful to contemplate your purpose in life and consider why you choose to do the work you do, whether it’s as an elected official, community leader or a manager leading a team or organisation. Consider what is the difference you wish to make in the world through your actions.

Declining trust

What role does ethics play in politics? It seems that we are losing confidence in our political leaders to make good (ethical) decisions for our nation. In fact, a number of recent studies measuring Australian’s satisfaction with democracy have shown the level of satisfaction in our politicians is plummeting.

Last year, the Eldeman Trust Barometer found that a majority of Australians believe their government is a broken institution.  Another study by Australian National University researchers reported on attitudes towards democracy following the July 2016 Australian Election Study (AES). Disturbingly, they found that 40% of Australians surveyed said they were not satisfied with democracy in Australia (levels not recorded since the days following the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government).

While levels of trust in our politicians are low now, sadly it’s probably going to get worse. This survey was conducted before the debacle around Section 44 of our constitution where 12 sitting MPs had to resign from parliament after admitting that they failed to declare they were duel citizens before nominating for office. It was also before news surfaced of the personal affairs of the ex-Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Holding leaders accountable for making good decisions

Is it any wonder trust in politicians is so low when much of the current political discourse focuses on personalities, media performance and poll results?

It’s time to hold our leaders accountable for their decision making and bring trust back into our political system.

Imagine what the debate could be like if we challenged our leaders on their values, purpose and principles? In the end, it might give them pause to reflect a little bit more on ‘what ought I do”? It could even lead to better decision making.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant, trainer and coach in local government with a passion for politics and good decision making.

*Photo credit: Wikimedia commons detail from The School of Athens, by Raphael.

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Appearance still matters in politics

 “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

Written over 400 years ago, these lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, about appearance and ambitions, are still pertinent for men and women aspiring to a higher role either in public office or the workplace.

How you look undeniably matters. Candidates running for election to either local, state or federal office must realise that their ‘dress code’ provides a subtle message to potential voters in a culture where ‘the clothes make the man’ (and woman!). Idealistic political candidates may think that their message is the main thing and eschew paying attention to appearance in order to avoid being seen as ‘vain’. However, the reality is that the public notice details about a candidate’s appearance long before a candidate even starts to voice the ‘vote-for-me’ pitch..

 Assumptions and judgments about appearance influence how citizens vote. Ignore this reality and a campaign is lost before it even begins.

 Why it matters

Personally, I wish it didn’t matter what people wore on the campaign trail. The message should matter more than looks, right? However, research into human nature shows it does. Studies clearly show that people make assumptions about others, based on what a speaker is wearing. Researchers have found that

 “your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion” Business Insider,

The upshot is, that if what you’re wearing on the campaign trail, overshadows your message, you run the risk that people may take one look at you and decide not to vote for you. Appearance must be a priority in order to send the right message to voters.

Other studies have found that clothes don’t just influence others’ perceptions of us, they can also change the way we think by improving our abstract cognitive processing skills.

Dress professionally and you not only look better, you also think smarter.   

How clothes proclaim the woman too

While men may be mocked for their sartorial choices, unfortunately, it’s still women that attract greater scrutiny for their appearance. A woman in politics is still unusual. As a result, the press and voters will notice her clothes, shoes, hair and makeup.

Australia has some notorious examples of fascination about the appearance of women politicians such as discussion on Senator Michaelia Cash’s ‘power coif’ hairdo, former senator Natasha Stott Despoja Dr Marten shoes, past Victorian Premier Joan Kirner’s ‘spotty dress’, or the cut of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s jacket.

But there’s often a double standard in place

As a woman Mayor recently said to me “I have to dress-up and do my hair and makeup every day for not only council events but even to just do the grocery shopping. I can’t risk being caught in my jeans or gym gear, because then I am seen as ‘sloppy and dressing down’. But, on the other hand, the male councillors; they can show up in shorts and a t-shirt and people say ‘isn’t he great, he’s one of us’. Women are held to a higher standard of grooming”

There’s no doubt that people expect a woman running for office, or an elected politician to look good. For women, this means working on their appearance virtually all the time. When Hillary Clinton was in Australia recently, she said she had calculated that she had spent about six hundred hours on the campaign trail on grooming. That’s equivalent to 26 days!

What to wear

For a female politician this often equates to wearing  ‘power-suits’ such as those favoured by female politicians on the world stage; think Angela Merkel’s blazer, Theresa May’s skirt-suit and Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit. These women leaders project that they can ‘play the game’ in the male dominated world of politics.

Women want to be seen as attractive to voters without being judged as ‘too sexy’ ‘fussy’ or ‘soft’. That’s why the ‘professional business-woman’ style works.

Male candidates are advised to avoid the ‘scruffy’ look if they want to be taken seriously. Again, although there may be eight dress styles for men in politics,  a professional look is recommended with a simple and well fitted suit in muted colours. Or, take the advice of Barack Obama who basically had one look and stuck to it saying “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits – I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Keep it real

If fashion style is not your thing, but you need to look good on the campaign trail, you can always seek some professional stylist advice. The big department stores have experts who can guide you through fashion choices from clothes, suits to accessories.

Look good, but in order to be authentic, you still need to feel comfortable and about what you are wearing.

That might mean comfortable shoes when door knocking and canvassing voters for support. It means not faking it. Beware of the ‘Bourke street bushie’ image. For example, if you’re out on the campaign trail in the ‘bush’ and you decide to wear an Akubra hat, a checked shirt, moleskins and RM Williams boots for the first time in your life, don’t do it. The voters can tell when you’re faking it.

In summary, as a candidate, you need to dress professionally in order to look the part of a politician-to-be while remaining genuine about your message for change. I hope this helps you to get elected!

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant, trainer and coach in local government where she also advocates for gender equality and more women in local government. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office

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P.I – The essential skill every Local Government CEO must have

It’s a high-profile role, with plenty of perks, prestige and power. As a Chief Executive Officer of a local council, you will manage hundreds of staff, 100 services across a municipality, multi-million-dollar budgets and make a positive difference in the local community. Plus, the pay isn’t bad either with salaries ranging from $250,000 – $460,000+. Interested?

If you aspire to ‘step-up’ to council’s top leadership role it can be a rewarding job. However, aspiring candidates need more than an exceptional record of high-level competency in organizational and leadership skills. To succeed in one of the toughest, most complex and challenging jobs in the public service there is one additional skill candidates need to help them not only survive but to thrive in the role. Its to do with working with the Councillors.

A successful local government CEO also needs to be exceptional at handling the politics; they need to be ‘politically savvy’ with a high PI.

Political nous = PI

There’s a variant of Emotional Intelligence known as PI; Political Intelligence. This is defined as “a distinct set of skills and behaviours that are needed by people working in organisations … in order to manage effectively the political landscape”.

In local government, if a CEO lacks the skills of political awareness or ‘political nous’, even experienced CEOs with strong qualifications and skills, can fail spectacularly in this ‘small p’ political environment.

One thing I know for sure from my own experience in local government and as a coach to Mayors, combined with years of observation in the local government sector: highly developed PI is a critical skill for every CEO.

The unique role of a Council CEO

Council is not a ‘typical’ work environment. Under the State legislation, a CEO is required to take direction on the strategic action of the council. This will come not from a skills-based board (like with an ASX 200 company), but from a collection of elected officials. Direction comes from Councillors – all with different views, skills, backgrounds – and opinions (some very strongly held).

In a typical local council, politics may not be on the scale of a State or Federal level, however, there are many Councillors who are drawn to a faction in their local council. Many (but not all) Councillors have political and other affiliations as elected officials as reflects the communities they serve. The workplace can become a highly charged, political environment.

Some council chambers can be a labyrinth of connections, obligations, duties and paybacks. A politically savvy CEO will know how to navigate the challenges and not only survive but thrive.

In this workplace, Councillors only have one staff member to direct and performance manage; ‘their’ CEO. It’s a workplace where a common key performance indicator is the ability to ‘get along with the Mayor’. This is a KPI which is difficult to put metrics around, but failure to demonstrate Political Intelligence can be disastrous for a CEO as Councillors have the power to sack him/her at will (and often do).

The leadership challenge of the ‘Three Edges’

In this highly charged, political environment, a competent CEO must provide leadership at ‘three edges’. Management expert, Henry Mintzberg, suggests that managers in the public sector need to provide leadership at three intersections where “each edge has considerable demands in its own right”. Extrapolating this research to a local council, I suggest a municipal CEO would need to cover these three edges:

  1. The ‘operating edge’, where a CEO would connect with their managers and staff to bring about action from within the organisation
  2. The ‘stakeholder edge’ where a CEO needs to connect with all the ‘outside players that bring tangible pressures to bear’ especially on them
  3. And importantly, the ‘political edge’ where a CEO needs to connect with the local Councillors, who are the politicians that direct the organisation and its operation, (and perhaps also the state and federal politicians in their municipality for grants etc).

Can we expect a CEO candidate for a local council to have the skills and experiences to simultaneously manage and provide effective leadership at each of the edges?

Boosting a CEOs PI

Can an aspiring (or existing) CEO be taught how to better understand and manage the political landscape; can they boost their PI? The answer is a resounding YES.

Just like Emotional Intelligence can be taught, I believe Political Intelligence is a skill that can be learnt. This can occur through coaching, mentoring, astute observations and training. And there’s always the option to watch re-runs of British sitcom Yes Minister and observe the diplomatic language of Private Secretary Bernard and practice the poker face of Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey as they respond to every harebrained scheme and idea of their Minister, Jim Hacker MP.

Over the past decade of working in the local government sector, I have seen some very savvy CEOs in action; men and women who can manage the three edges. I’d like to share some of my observations for their characteristics.

Ten tactics of a politically savvy council CEO

Council CEOs with high IP are:

  1. Good at maths: The CEO clearly understand where the power lies; in the Councillors who have ‘the numbers’ and so control the voting bloc. They can count!
  2. Fair: they treat all Councillors fairly, with no ‘favourites’ – even those with the numbers now (as everything can change next election).
  3. Respectful: they listen and consider different views (with no eye rolling, interrupting, ‘mansplaining’ or patronising comment) and respond with a willingness to genuinely seek a way forward to address Councillors’ concerns
  4. ‘Street smart’: As an experienced executive they would have seen their fair share of ‘brawls’ at various boards or committees and at an organisational level. This gives them a sense when trouble may be brewing, and they can take pre-emptive action to manoeuvre around potential traps or ‘political shit-storms’.
  5. Loyal: They never, ever, disparage or gossip about ‘their Councillors’ to anyone, especially other Councillors or staff. This builds trust.
  6. Calm in a storm: They show an ability to analyse the situation and keep a close eye on ‘the politics’. They provide coaching advice and support when asked or needed, but don’t take sides in order to keep conflict to a minimum.
  7. Good collaborators: Can build partnerships and alliances.
  8. Impartial but not weak: Respects different and diverse opinions but will stand up for what is ethical, legal, and required such as issues of workplace safety and respecting others. They are not a push-over and can offer a forthright opinion when it is needed.
  9. Accountable: they are transparent and honest about organisational failures and work with Councillors to approve plans to address failures. They know the (operational) buck stops with them.
  10. Present: They exhibit a certain ‘stage presence’ which comes from earnt respect (from councillors, staff, peers and the sector) and expertise. This gives them an authority to ‘adjudicate’ if needed, in disputes.

Ready to apply?

Have you got a high IP? Do you have the diplomatic skills to ‘Lead up’ and work in a politically charged environment? Could you work with a diverse (and sometimes divided) group of Councillors to further the interests of your municipality and the residents?

The job of a council CEO is challenging sure – but the work also comes with rewards of exceptional public service. Why not put the term ‘local government CEO’ in the LinkedIn search bar and give it a go!

Ruth McGowan is a consultant to local government and supports Councillors as an independent adviser in the recruitment of their CEO. She is a former Mayor, Councillor and has been appointed to numerous boards where she wishes she had known then, what she knows now about recruiting a politically aware CEO.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

5 things to learn from on-line dating to help you recruit your next CEO

Selecting an online dating app is a bit like picking an executive search firm.

These days, if you want a new partner you can just jump online and tap into the many dating apps, services and websites that promise to deliver you plenty of hot talent to choose from. If you’re a Board member, or a Councillor looking to appoint a CEO, you are also in the market for an ideal partner – all be it one who will successfully lead your organisation rather than provide lifelong romantic fulfilment.  Luckily for you, instead of having to do the dating equivalent of hoping you might ‘get lucky’ in the local bar, there are specialised search firms that, for a fee, will do the hard work of finding a match for you.

Just like dating apps are now a ‘normal’ way for many adults to meet others, so too recruitment agencies can assist Boards and Councillors find the ‘perfect match’ for their next CEO.

For decades, online dating services have been helping people find their perfect match. Specialised ‘Head Hunters’ have also been helping organisations place top executives. They are not cheap but represent good value when the risk of a ‘bad hire’ for your next CEO could be a lot more serious for your organisation than personally going on a bad date.

If you want to source high-quality candidates for your chief executive role it’s time to call in an exclusive headhunter. But at first, how do you recruit the right recruiting agent? If you don’t come from a HR background and you have never employed a CEO before how do you avoid the overwhelm of so much choice?

Agencies are modern matchmakers

In the past, singles looking for romance used to place a ‘lonely hearts’ advertisement in the local paper. Now, online dating agencies boast of algorithms that can link you into databases of hundreds of thousands of potential matches. Recruitment agencies are our modern-day matchmakers, skilled at identifying, attracting and assessing qualified candidates to be considered for the CEO role.

And, just as there are plenty of online dating sites – all with different pricing, client databases, and success rates -so too with recruitment agencies. As a consultant, I support councillors as an independent adviser through their CEO recruitment process. The first step is to select an executive recruitment agency that will deliver a good match for the organisation.

So how to select which recruitment agency is right for your organisation? It’s a lot like selecting a dating app!  

5 questions to ask when deciding which agency to hire

1.      What is your reputation?

How good are they at their job? In my work in the local government sector, councils have the choice of several top recruiting agencies to partner with for CEO recruitment. It is a relatively small sector so it’s simple to ask other councils about the pros and cons of the agencies they have previously worked with. Word of mouth is effective. A potential recruitment firm should also be able to provide references and testimonials from like organisations.

Check their success rates and placement statistics. For example, one Australian dating site boasts that it has ‘been responsible for over 11000 marriages’ which sounds impressive. What are the recent success stories of your potential agency?  How extensive and diverse is their own database of potential applicants, either existing CEOs or ‘step-ups’ from senior management?

2.    Tell me about your experience?

It is useful to understand the background of different agencies and their experience in your sector or profession. Do you want a firm that is well known for appointing successful placements over many years? Or are you willing to try a new company with an innovative niche approach?

3.    Can you explain your processes?

When deciding on who to hire as your recruitment firm, their processes make all the difference. Ask about:

  • How do they source talent – how they find and reach talent; both through passive advertising (e.g. newspaper, LinkedIn, SEEK etc) and active means (such as ‘tapping people on the shoulder’ to apply or their own database?)
  • Psychometric testing – just as a ‘personality test’ is key to setting up an online dating profile, similarly, most recruitment agencies offer to test as part of their assessment processes. But not all psychological tests are useful. Check that the agency applies tests that are relevant to the skills (soft and hard), character and aptitude which is specific to the role.
  • Their guarantee – If the placement doesn’t work out, for whatever reason in the first 12 months, do they have a guarantee to refill the position free of charge? And is their dispute resolution process quick and fair?
  • Manage confidentiality – how do they manage candidates that wish to be discrete with their application?
  • Dealing with Internal candidates – how do they sensitively and fairly manage internal candidates?
  • Diversity – how effective are they are putting forward diverse candidates for consideration?
  • Fraud – how do they check and vet potential applicants. Just as with on-line dating, not everyone out there is exactly who they say they are. Careful security vetting is a must.
  • Support – understand how they will keep you (or the CEO recruitment Panel) involved, informed of progress and build ownership of the process?

4.    Who is your personnel?

Who will be handling your search – the top talent or her/his junior associate? The musical, Fiddler on the Roof has a famous song about matchmaker Yente, the village woman who knew everyone’s business and was skilled in arranging traditional marriages. When selecting an agency, you want to get the top talent, someone who is as experienced as Yente! Does your agency personnel know who’s who in your sector? Do they have a good network and understanding of who could potentially be a great CEO for your organisation? Are they like the ‘village busybody’ with a great handle on what’s going on?

5.    Are you a FIT for us?

There’s a dating app out there for just about any niche group you could think of; from a racial background, LGBTI to vegetarian. You can easily find the right ‘fit’ for your potential dating interests if you care to search.

When you are paying good money to hire an executive search firm to come and partner with you for several months in the search for a new CEO, you need a firm that understands you.

One that ‘gets’ your challenges, opportunities and your culture. For instance, in the local government sector, it is important that the recruitment agent understands the rare skills mix that is required to be a successful Council CEO in what can be a highly charged, political environment.

Swipe right and commence the search

Next time you need to select an executive recruitment agent to land your ‘perfect match CEO’, draw on these tips to ‘swipe right’ and select your ace recruiter. With a bit of luck, there will be plenty of fish to select from, including top talent that RSVPs ‘yes’ to your advertisement, ultimately producing a CEO that matches all your expectations so that you can work together in harmony for happily ever after!

Ruth McGowan is a consultant to local government and supports councillors as an independent adviser in the recruitment of their CEO. She is a former Mayor and has been appointed to numerous boards where she wishes she had known then, what she knows now about recruiting a CEO. 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Diversity in disaster

Every year many thousands of people and communities across the world are impacted by natural or man-made emergencies and disasters.

In 2017 the global cost of disasters resulted in the third-most expensive year for insured losses, costing US$ 337 billion dollars. Also, the UN reported 11,000 people dead or missing as a result of disasters across the globe, reflecting a devastating hurricane season and many destructive wildfires.

What can we learn about reducing the social and economic costs? What has diversity got to do with helping people prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster?

Quite a lot as it turns out.

Disasters discriminate

This week I attended a 2-day Diversity in Disaster conference in Melbourne, where speakers explored a range of strategies that organisations can employ to reduce inequalities and help build resilient communities at risk of disasters.

Emergency management agencies, organisations and communities presented on what they have learnt about being more inclusive of diversity their planning and response to disasters and emergencies. Their discussions would interest to any organisation wanting to better engage with diverse customers or clients around managing risk.

Powerful stories were told about how disasters do discriminate. Research shows that vulnerable and minority communities bear the brunt of the impact – in monetary and health terms and often sadly with their lives. A theme was that:

The sad fact is that diverse communities face a disproportionate risk during disasters. Research shows you are more likely to die from a disaster if you are from a poor or vulnerable community or identify with a minority group.

Many people from diverse, marginalised or underrepresented communities experience disasters differently, facing unique challenges that affect their ability to respond and recover.

Diversity matters

Increasingly the lens of Diversity and Inclusion is helping to improve the way programs are delivered around disaster planning and response. This is ultimately helping people from minority groups and diverse communities become better prepared for, cope with and recover from disasters. It’s even saving lives.

It is always powerful when you hear the stories of people with lived experiences of the importance of being included in decision making that affect their lives. At the Diversity in Disasters conference, people from diverse communities told their stories about empowering programs that were helping them be more resilient in the face of inevitable disaster risks.  We heard:

  •  About the power of art therapy in assisting community recovery following the devastating Australian bushfires in February 2009,
  • Reports on how agencies can partner with children to build resilience in emergencies.
  • From Sharon who shared her heart-breaking story about the impact a major bushfire had on her marriage as she and her husband struggled to recover from the trauma in the months of recovery. This was sadly backed up by research that that domestic violence reports triple following a disaster.
  • From Leroy, a young transgendered man, who spoke about how his fire brigade focussed on building an inclusive environment for volunteer firefighters by deliberately making their fire station environment feel safer and welcoming for LGBTI members such as unisex bathrooms.
  • From Ross, a blind man, who spoke about his unique contribution to a local council’s emergency planning committee as he had experience of someone with a physical disability who had survived a previous disaster.

Not easy but worth it

Incorporating diversity in disaster planning, response efforts and recovery programs is not easy, but it is worth it.

By asking the question ‘how can we be more inclusive?’ organisations can deliver a more robust program on the ground that is, in turn, more effective, saving lives and dignity.

Sometimes it may be far less challenging to roll out a ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, increasingly research is finding that treating ‘the community’ as one homogeneous blob, results in ineffective support and, at worse, additional loss of life.

The challenge for government agencies and organisations is to work with diverse groups, not as problems and ‘victims’ that need charity. The better-practices discussed at the conference, are working to prepare communities at risk with tailored support through respectful engagement. The result is programs that empower people to support them to bounce back and thrive when disaster hits. The launch of the National Gender in Emergency Guidelines include practical checklists for agencies with a genuine desire to improve diversity considerations in their planning for disasters.

The approaches taken by emergency response agencies to be inclusive of diversity can be adapted by organisations wanting to develop robust Risk Management Plans in a world where disasters are are becoming more frequent.

Minority communities can often be overlooked in risk management planning. The reality is they have unique viewpoints and experiences that can significantly add to organisational and community contributions to disaster planning. With the global trend to more and more disasters, it is high time to include a consideration of diversity in disaster planning.

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

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How’s your G-spot?

How important is the very human characteristic of generosity to you? Do you have a ‘G-spot’ or a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to being kind to others or giving more than is expected? For me, this is a crucial quality in the people I work with and the leaders I admire. Imagine if we had workplaces where people ‘worked their G-spot’ instead of having a blind spot when it came to being generous. What would that look like?

I was recently struck by a story I heard about the funeral of the British actor, David Niven who died several years ago. It was reported that among the many messages from mourners, there was a huge wreath from the porters at Heathrow Airport. It came with a card that read:

To the finest gentleman who ever walked through these halls. He made a porter feel like a king.

David Niven was someone who, despite his fame, was known to be decent to everyone he met, no matter what job they had or how important they were. He was a generous person.

G for Generosity

Generous people are the people you know who have a collaborative rather than competitive mindset. They are happy to share information with others and provide their time and support as mentors or coaches. They give credit where credit is due. When teams are lead by leaders with a generous mindset or G-Spot, remarkable things happen in an environment where people thrive.

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit Harry S Truman

Generous leaders are great leaders

Throughout my working life, I have been lucky to work with some inspiring leaders in a range of jobs and volunteering roles. Like most people who have spent a few decades in the workforce, I’ve experienced a variety of leadership styles; some good -some terrible.

Recently I have been assisting a board to employ their next CEO. Together, we got talking about the characteristics they wanted to see in their next leader. It got me thinking. What were the qualities of the good leaders that I’ve worked with? In reflection, it’s something quite simple and that is that they are generous people.

Generosity is about a whole lot more than being charitable or giving money to a worthy cause through philanthropy. Leaders with a ‘G-Spot’ are people who are naturally engaging and show compassion and fairness to everyone.  Leaders that ignore opportunities to be generous, display a Blind-Spot in their interactions with others.

G-spot vs Blind-spot

A unique human quality

Being a generous leader is that intrinsic quality that may be hard to put a finger on, but you know it when you see it, when you hear it and when you feel it. Having a generous spirit is a defining human characteristic. In the next 30 years, Artificial Intelligence is likely to drive automation of nearly every job in Australia. However, there is one quality that we will always seek in human leaders; the irreplaceable human trait of generosity. It’s difficult to imagine a machine being able to meet the definition of generosity of ‘being kind and doing or giving more than is usual or expected’.

Why we need to practice generosity

Writing in the Harvard Business Review about the value of generosity to your career, Jodi Glickman notes that when someone is being generous, “What comes across is a strong work ethic, great communication skills, and a willingness and ability to collaborate”. She goes on to explain the benefits are that “Leaders and managers who are generous engender trust, respect and goodwill from their colleagues and employees”. Show me a workplace that doesn’t need more of that!

Work your G-spot

What could you do to be more generous towards the people you work or volunteer with? It’s a uniquely human characteristic and one that people want to see in their leaders. By practising generosity in your workplace and community it will not only enrich your life but the also the well-being of others. Remembering the words of the great statesman who said:

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give Winston Churchill

Would people say you are a generous person?’ If not, it’s never too late to change. Find your G-spot and get going on being more generous.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant, trainer and coach of leaders in local government and rural Australia. She also likes to practice the attitude and actions of a generous person 😉