by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Get Elected

Increasingly Australians are ‘shopping around’ and discarding old loyalties to either Coles or Woollies with more of us occasionally purchasing our groceries from other, smaller supermarket chains such as Aldi or a local Foodworks.

It’s a similar story with Australian voters when it comes to putting down their first preference at election time.

Rather than being rusted on to either the Blue, Red or Green team, at the last federal election in 2016 almost one in four voters gave their first preference to either a minor party or an independent candidate. The trend continued with recent State government elections in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW where record numbers of independents and candidates from minor parties were elected to parliament.

It ‘s Independents’ Day

The electoral success of high-profile federal independents such as Cathy McGowan, Kerryn Phelps and Andrew Wilke has led to a national rise in the number of independent candidates hoping to emulate their success by running for the upcoming May 18th federal election. It appears that almost every seat in the country has a keen independent putting their ‘vote for me’ hand up this time around.

However, more often than not, independent candidates lose elections. It can be tough starting from scratch as an unaligned candidate, without the massive support, experience and funding that comes with the endorsement of a major party. Mistakes are often made; funds are tight, volunteers can be difficult to find let alone sustain.

Occasionally a campaign is so brilliantly executed that an independent candidate is successfully elected. This was the case for the celebrated ‘Independent for Indi’ campaigns of 2013 and 2016 that saw an army of ‘supporters assist Cathy McGowan to get elected as the first female independent member in the federal house of representatives.

As Cathy’s sister, I volunteered on her team to assist to coordinate those two campaigns, and joined a vibrant, skilled team of hundreds of orange-t-shirt-wearing volunteers. As a past Councillor and Mayor with a couple of local council campaigns under my belt, I knew first-hand what it takes to get elected.

The ultimate guide for candidates

To date, there has been a lack of easily available information on how to campaign for the three levels of government across Australia. Information is hard to find and although there are play-books written for candidates in the major parties, this is often tightly guarded as ‘secret political-party business’. So, I decided to write Get Elected, the first national book on ‘how to campaign’ which presents a step by step guide to winning public office at a local, state or federal level.

Get Elected draws on research and successful case studies such as the Indi campaign and another state, local and federal campaigns. The practical tips come from my own experiences as a trainer of workshops and courses on ‘how to run your campaign’ as well as my work as a Candidate-Coach.

Cathy McGowan launched the guide on April 4th in Parliament House, Canberra with the call to action ‘Don’t get mad – get elected!’

With Cathy McGowan MP at the  launch of Get Elected Parliament House Canberra

“To the many people who feel disillusioned and disappointed about the state of politics and find it hard to imagine a way forward, this guide is for you. In Get Elected, Ruth unpacks a step-by-step ‘recipe book’ of what it takes to plan, run and win a successful campaign for candidates and for the people who will help them succeed” Cathy McGowan MP



And, in Melbourne this week, Ali Cupper the independent Victorian state MP for Mildura kicked off the state launch of the guide saying

With Ali Cupper MP for Mildura

“there is an art and science to politics and getting elected. Get Elected explains the science. I wish I had had this guide at my fingertips when I ran my first campaign almost a decade ago. It would have saved a lot of nail-biting guesswork and costly mistakes.” Ali Cupper MP

A book for #ItsTime

I was inspired to write Get Elected both at the urging of my sister Cathy as a way of capturing and sharing the Indi campaign experiences and to encourage more women to run for office. In 2017 I was privileged to be selected to attend the Melbourne University Pathways to Politics program which aims to equip women to run for office. Now, as an alumni, I know a handbook like Get Elected will assist women candidates with practical tips and advice.

Although our parliaments and councils across the land are predominately composed of ‘older white men’ there is a push for greater diversity in our political representation with voters desiring politicians that ‘look and talk like us’. Currently, I know there are many competent, independently minded women who are progressive in their thinking and prepared to lead the change they wish to see in their community by standing as candidates for office.

“Ultimately I hope this guides can inspire diverse candidates and prompt more women to step forward, run for office and get elected” Ruth McGowan

Get Elected is divided into four parts which take the reader through the decision-making, planning and running stages of a campaign and ends with a consideration of ‘what next?’ The useful advice, tips and checklists provide a practical and easy-to-read guide which makes Get Elected accessible for anyone considering public office. For large or small scale campaigns, the principles are similar, and the guide provides advice on how to scale up or down a campaign depending on the size of the office the candidate is attempting to win.

Prior to the publication of Get Elected, candidates wanting to know how to run a winning campaign would have to rely on international guides from the U.S or U.K – or, if they were lucky – advice from an experienced campaigner who had ‘been there done that’ with a major party. Now, with this guide, information on how to Get Elected is readily accessible by ordinary citizens who wish to do something extraordinary and run for office.

For potential candidates thinking of running for office, Get Elected will help to confirm your plans and help you give your run for office your best shot. Copies are available directly from my website: www.ruthmcgowan.com/book

Ruth McGowan loves to talk about politics, democracy and improving the diversity of political representation in Australia at all levels of government which means more #WomeninPolitics. For more information see https://ruthmcgowan.com/
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

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. www.ruthmcgowan.com

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

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

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

Let’s talk about sexism in politics

It’s loud, aggressive; a theatre of spin, insults and manufactured outrage, orchestrated by grown men who should know better. Yes, I’m talking about our Federal Parliament’s Question Time. On a visit to Federal Parliament in Canberra this week, I couldn’t help but wonder

Would politicians’ behaviour be improved if we had equal representation of women in politics?’

Alas, Australia still has a while to go until we reach gender equality in federal politics. Men currently outnumber women 4:1 in the House of Representatives and about 3:1 in the Senate. Here’s the latest stats as compiled recently by Women’s Agenda.

  • in the lower house, women occupy 44 of the 150 positions, almost 30% of seats.
  • In the Senate women now hold 32 seats out of 76, or roughly 42% of the chamber
  • women represent 48% of Labor MPs
  • women hold 19 of the 84 Liberal MPs and senators in parliament, around 22%,

It was 124 years ago when South Australia became the first polity in the world to grant equal political rights to both men and women, not only allowing them to vote but also to stand for parliament. All Australian states had followed by 1908. Since then, there have been 206 women in federal politics and 76 of them are in our ‘big house’ right now. Path-breaking women doing their best to represent their constituents in this masculine-dominated field of public service. But why is equality in representation taking so long?

Perhaps it’s because of entrenched sexism which is delivering a political system inherently biased against female politicians

 Sexism in politics

It’s a difficult fact of political life but most women who have been elected to public office will have stories to tell of when they have been directly or indirectly subjected to sexist comments and behaviour.

As an example, think of media reporting on politicians. Why is it only women who receive comments on their marital status, age, parenting situation, clothes, looks or even their voice? When was the last time you read or heard a comment about a male politician’s outfit? Apart from the ‘red or blue’ commentary on his tie choice, probably never. Unlike their male peers, women in politics inevitably experience sexist comments about their hairstyles, clothes, body shape and shoes. Remember the judgemental comments on Teresa Mays infamous leather pants and comments she was out of touch with the average voter because her trousers were ‘so expensive’. No such comments about her peers in their Saville Row, bespoke-suits which went quietly under the sartorial radar.

Wives and mothers first; pollies second

Over the past century community and media expectation has been that female politicians should be wives and mothers. However, history shows that even if a mother runs for office, she is inevitable questioned about how she will continue to care for her children. For example, the creepy comments recently asked of NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 60 minutes about “Can you have a baby, be a mother and still do the job?” At least there was a collective groan when that interview was aired earlier this year.

 Sexism is everywhere

It’s not only parts of the media that push sexism in politics. Women politicians may also be put down by their opponents or even by their own colleagues. Recall the national cringe moment when former Prime Minister Tony Abbot said he was ‘complimenting’ the then federal MP Fiona Scott for her ‘sex appeal’ while on the campaign trail? She later said the comments were offensive and ‘sexually objectified’ her. Ms Scott also reported that the comments lead to a lack of credibility with some of her male colleagues when she was elected.

Sadly, women can also be subjected to even more severe threats from members of the public. Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that for women in public life the “threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily”.

 Women push on

Despite the widespread sexism that inevitably seems to come with the job of being a politician, women are pushing on; making a difference, representing their communities and advocating on issues they feel strongly about. Programs such as Melbourne University’s Pathway to Politics are aiming to improve diversity in representation. As a fellow of the 2017 program, I was privileged to hear a range of excellent speakers including many female politicians from a range of political views sharing their stories about what it is like to be a woman in politics. These inspiring politicians shared their achievements and reflections on how they made a difference – despite often harrowing tales of sexism and discrimination.

This week, while visiting Australia’s Parliament house I looked down and noticed millions of dents spreading across the wooden floors of the vast hallways.

Millions of grooves on the polished parquetry give me hope that one day we will have gender equality in our federal parliament

Because, if you look closely, every one of those marks was put there by a woman politician (or her female staffer) striding out in high heels and subtly leaving her mark on the corridors of power. And I am forever grateful to all those women in public office, making their mark, pulling free the grip of sexism on political power and making it easier for the women to come.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a gender equity advocate and champion for women in local government through her work as a consultant and coach. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

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. 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

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. www.ruthmcgowan.com