by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Political savvy is a critical competency for astute leaders.

To be an effective CEO, community leader or project manager, it is not enough to be smart, strategic or empathetic. Modern leaders must also be politically astute, with a truckload of ‘political nous’.

Calling for Political Astute leaders

In the past year, I have noticed a change in the language of the position descriptions for local-government CEO vacancies. Increasingly, the Key Selection Criteria for these plum roles are seeking leaders who can demonstrate they are ‘politically astute’. This is a ‘must have’ skill for leaders of large, public sector organisations who also have to deal with elected representatives.

In a local council, aspiring managers need to demonstrate that they have:

  • The ‘project skills’ to deliver on strategic council plans.
  • The ‘people skills’ to engage with a wide range of diverse stakeholders and successfully collaborate on project delivery
  • The empathy to inspire hundreds of skilled staff to commit to a service-orientated culture.

The modern CEO also needs to add:

  • the ‘political skills’ that ensure productive relationships with elected representatives and the ability to create a positive people and culture environment for managing workplace politics.

It can be hard to define ‘politically savvy’ but you certainly can tell when someone doesn’t have it!

What is ‘political savvy’?

I suggest people seek to answer this question by thinking of a leader(s) they admire and reflecting on the importance of political skills to this leader’s success.

Conversely; think of those leaders who despite great promise, ultimately failed in the role. It was most likely because they didn’t ‘get the politics’ and lacked ‘political nous’.

It is tough to deliver transformative change, operational excellence, stakeholder engagement, a thriving culture … and all the other outcomes expected of a senior manager or community leader without a high level of political intelligence.

That’s why all successful leaders have the smarts, the strategy and the savvy.

How politically savvy you are is measured by your Political Quotient, that is, your level of political intelligence.

If you were to unpack the components of a Political Astute leader into its parts, it looks like this:

IQ (Intelligence Quotient) + EQ (Emotional Quotient) + PQ (Political Quotient) = Astute

Lift your PQ

If you wish to ‘get good stuff done’  – whether in your workplace or community – you need to take an interest in the politics going on around you. Because if you don’t; politics will take an interest in you and this may not be to your benefit.

That’s why I don’t call politics a ‘game’ because this is deadly serious. Your level of political intelligence – and therefore how politically astute you are – can make or break your career.

As a consultant working in the local government sector and someone who is fascinated by the ‘raw politics’ of public office, I am keen to learn more about what it takes to help people master the politics. This year, I travelled to London to undertake accredited training with UK-based, Academy for Political Intelligence who are world leaders in delivering training in organisational politics.

The Academy has developed a range of tools and processes to help people in organisations to manage the political landscape more effectively. This includes a diagnostic tool which allows people to identify the type of ‘political animal’ they are and workshops on how to build the skills to become more politically intelligent to manage the politics in their organisation.

I am now an accredited trainer with the Academy to deliver this training throughout the Asia-Pacific region for corporations keen to understand how to boost their skills in organisational politics and become more politically savvy. This is particularly important for new and aspiring managers and team leaders. By learning the skills of politically savvy at the start of their leadership journey, people can fast track the years that it may take to learn about politics the hard way.

If you want to know more about the Political Savvy training program for new managers and aspiring leaders, please get in touch, and I will forward you information about the workshop program that can be delivered in your workplace.

Ruth McGowan OAM is an accredited trainer in Political Intelligence and runs training on how to Boost your Political Savvy for new and aspiring leaders. 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Pleased to meet you

Introductions. We all need to do them if we wish to meet new people. Some people try hard to avoid it; others thrive on building connections. Yet, if you wish to be successful at networking, you need to learn the knack of introducing yourself to strangers.

Political intelligent leaders are skilled at introducing themselves to strangers. It’s often said of famous leaders such as Bill Clinton, Jacinda Ardern and Nelson Mandela “He/She made me feel like I was the only person in the room” when they only met someone for a few minutes.

Perhaps you even know of a leader or skilled communicator who made you feel that way?

Politically astute leaders know how to work a room. It’s an art and a skill that can be learnt.

Here’s how:

  1. Take the initiative
  • Start even as you walk into the meeting room, by initiating a friendly chat on the way in, or as you sign up for your nametag, conference folder etc.
  • Project confidence and a friendly smile and walk up to someone to introduce yourself.
  • Talk about what you do, where you are from; not just your title or company name.

2.      Shake hands.

  • The handshake was a traditional way of saying ‘See… I carry no dagger to kill you with!” and in modern culture, it still works, especially for formal gatherings.
  • With confidence and a broad smile, extend your hand for a greeting.
  • Make good contact expressing warmth, friendliness and avoid too hard ‘bone-crusher or too limp ‘wet fish’ handshake

3.      Be mindful of your body language

  • If your posture is “open,” you will come across as welcoming and friendly. Be straight, with your shoulders back and your head up.
  • Resist fidgeting
  • Face the person you are speaking to.

4.      Make eye contact

  • Be present, stay in the moment as you introduce yourself.
  • Say hello and tell them your name

5.      Listen

  • When someone tells you their name back, or you can read it on their name tag, say “pleased to meet you, Delores”.
  • Ask, then listen to their response, with genuine sincerity.
  • Next, ask an ‘open question’ about them and use their name.
  • Listen to their response with an open mind and curiosity.

As Dale Carnegie famously said in the classic self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

6.      Finish gracefully and move on

  • There comes a time when perhaps the small talk has finished, and it is time for you to move on to others, you may already know in the room, or potential new connections.
  • Take a business card or use the ‘find nearby’ feature to connect on LinkedIn
  • If someone is by themselves, it can be kind to introduce them to others you know.
  • Otherwise, a ‘thanks for the chat and I will see you around’ may do.

Finally, practice makes perfect. If this feels a bit unnatural to you, with practice, it will become easier. You will be able to meet anyone, anywhere, and master the art of networking.

Try these steps at your conference or meeting. Let me know if you start to notice a difference in the level of connections you have with strangers. I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn and tell me how your experiment works out.

Ruth McGowan OAM is an accredited trainer in Political Intelligence and runs training on how to Boost your Political Savvy for new and aspiring leaders. 

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Woman interrupted . . .

Did you see the recent report from the Harvard Business Review that found women leaders scored higher than men on the majority of critical leadership competencies? In fact, women were found to be more effective in 84% of the competencies measured.

“Women were rated as excelling in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practising self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty. Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills – HBR 25/6/19

This same research also reported a ‘massive confidence gap between younger women and their male counterparts, especially for women under 25 years of age. Thankfully this confidence-gap virtually disappears by the time women reach their 40s. However, in the meantime, organisations risk not hearing the voices of younger, competent female talent who may be struggling to build their confidence in the first decade of their career.

If you are interested in advancing gender equality, like I am, the important question to ask is ‘what can we do to build the confidence of younger women to speak up and contribute’?

Rather than blaming women for their self-doubt, it is possible to design organisational changes to make the system more inclusive.   

A practical example of changes to make in the workplace is to purposefully design meetings to be more inviting of contributions from everyone; including female staff, new employees and team members from different cultural backgrounds or diverse communities. Inclusive meetings aim to ensure everyone can have their voice heard and feel that their contribution is valued.

We interrupt … to talk about interrupting

Constant interruptions in meetings are not unusual, yet they can subtly contribute to gender disparity in many organisations as well as public discourse.

Interruptions can be disruptive or co-operative. Co-operative interruptions may be affirmative with the intention to build rapport or support a speaker. For example, when you hear someone saying “Yep, good point – totally agree” or “Uh-huh, we found the same problem”. They also include interruptions to clarify a point such as “Excuse me – could you please explain that acronym?” or “Can you elaborate on Scenario A?”

In contrast, disruptive interruptions may be a deliberate attempt by the listener to assert dominance in a conversation by controlling the floor. For example; “OK, we’ve had enough discussion on that topic, let’s move on” or “But we tried that last time, and it didn’t work”. 

Some social researchers believe there is a gender aspect to interruptions. Dr Pragya Agarwal, a behavioural scientist and mental health campaigner, has written about the tendency for men to interrupt more than women. She quotes a US study that found men interrupted 33%  more often when they spoke with women than when they spoke with other men. The research also found that over a short conversation(3-minutes), men interrupted women 2.1 times but only interrupted other men 1.8 times. (By contrast, the women on average interrupted men only once). She cites other research that found “men were more likely to interrupt women with the intent to assert dominance in the conversation, meaning men were interrupting to take over the conversation floor”.

Diverse teams make better decisions, minimising the risk of ‘group think’. However, constant disruptive interruptions in meetings can ‘shut down’ the voices of less confident team members from diverse backgrounds. The result is many organisations are missing out on the best possible outcomes of team decision making. Could this be your workplace?

Listen in

Conversational interruptions happen more often than you think.  If you are interested to see if this is an issue in your workplace, I invite you to try an experiment. Pretend you are an ‘undercover behavioural scientist’ who has been assigned the task to observe and listen to interruptions at your next team meeting. In particular, note any differences between the genders.

Stay curious, actively listening to any differences between the participants around the table or in the room. Note the gender mix in the team and the proportion of those members who represent a minority background. As the meeting progresses, listen to who has ‘the stage’. Who is doing the most talking and for how long are they speaking? Who gets to ask the follow-up questions and who receives the affirmations for their contributions? Finally, note who is doing the interruptions (use the Women Interrupted App). Are the interruptions of a co-operative nature with the result of supporting a conversation or are they disruptive and asked to dominate or take control of the conversation?

You may be surprised by what you observe in your meetings, particularly if there are differences between the genders. Research shows it’s most likely to be the male team members doing most of the talking AND the interrupting, while women contribute less frequently (or worse, shut down). If this reflects your experiences, then your organisation is likely to be missing out on the voices and contributions of competent women.

Do your team meetings have the effect of opening up conversations – or shutting them down?  We can all take practical steps to advance gender equality and design more inclusive team meetings.

10 steps to designing inclusive meetings

With commitment, it is relatively simple to step up and take action to include diverse voices in your team meetings. Consider creating your meetings to be more inclusive with these ten suggestions:

  1. Start the meeting with a discussion around ‘no-interrupting’ and encourage questions to be asked at the close of a presentation. Naming the problem and potential implications for good decision making will raise awareness.
  2. Encourage women to share the ‘power seat’ at a meeting; often at the front and near the boss/team leader.
  3. If people are prone to long, rambling questions, consider setting a time limit for questions (90-second rule, 60-second follow up).
  4. If the interruptions continue, call it out – (“Hey let her finish please”)
  5. If the voices of women and others from diverse backgrounds are absent, invite them to contribute to the conversation (“I’d like to hear from Jenna”)
  6. Give credit where credit is due for a good idea. Call it out if someone repeats another person’s idea or tries to claim it as their own. (“Yeah that’s what Fatima said 20 minutes ago!”)
  7. Avoid casual stereotypes (such as assuming women will manage the catering, or the men the IT problems).
  8. If someone has a soft voice, use a microphone. Make it easy for people to be heard; literally.
  9. Invite women to contribute, acknowledge their input and provide positive feedback when they do so (without being patronising). (“Thanks Kelsey and we appreciate your insight given your experience in ….”)
  10. If your team is relatively small, but some members tend to dominate the conversation, try ways to seek everyone’s contribution. (“OK, now we are going to go around the table and hear feedback from everyone”).

Try these steps at your next team meeting and see if you start to notice a difference in the range of voices contributing to the conversation. I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn and tell me how your experiment works out.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a gender equity advocate and champion for women in local government and politics through her work as a consultant and coach. In 2019 she wrote Get Elected to assist candidates from diverse backgrounds to stand for office. 

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The myth of merit

Australians. We like to think we’re a nation of decent people, ready to give someone a fair go as long as they are prepared to ‘have a crack’. We also like to think we have good ‘bullshit radars’ meaning we are not afraid to call it out when someone is not being ‘fair dinkum’.

I’m having a go. It’s time to call out the term ‘merit’ as bullshit.

I’m fired up after attending the Equal Future forum this week, run by the Municipal Association of Victoria. Coincidentally, the same day the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) reported that the gender pay gap for women continues to sit at 79% of men’s salary.

Speaking at the MAV Forum, Catherine Fox, Walkley-Award winning author of  Stop Fixing Women spoke about the way ‘Merit’ is a term that unleashes our cognitive biases such as unconscious bias and affinity bias.

The Myth of Merit

This is what’s wrong with the notion of ‘Merit’. It might sound like an objective filter for sifting out those who deserve a promotion, reward, accolades. But, as Fox argues, it’s time we scrutinised the term and better understood how it is an insidious barrier to gender equality.

According to Fox, merit an elusive, subjective term that is really just ‘smoke and mirrors. The danger of this concept she says is that

merit is a self-reinforcing concept for those in charge (Fox)

When this happens, like-employs-like. The ‘mini-me’ in corporate Australia results in scenarios such as men apparently being ‘nine times more meritorious than females as CEOs in the ASX 200’. In other professions, such as Law, women make up to two-thirds of graduates yet fill only one-in-10 senior counsel and Queen’s counsel positions according to the Law Council of Australia.

We often hear that ‘he got it on merit’ whether it’s a job or an award. Fox says the perpetuation of this term is handy as ‘it doesn’t rock the boat … and perpetuates inertia’. In short, the term is an excuse used not to take action to address inequality.

If you still think the predominance of men in most spheres of leadership, corporate Australia, politics and holders of Australian Honours is as a result of merit, then what you are actually saying is that men are inherently more capable, deserving, skilled and talented than women in those same professions and industries. Really?

Personally, I don’t think so. Taking a small step to address inequality, last year I co-founded a movement Honour A Woman to address inequality in the Australian Honours where men consistently receive 70% of the awards. After 43 years on inequality in this area, we are finally making some progress.

The Gender Equality Paradox

Turns out that in addition to the Myth of Merit, there is also the Gender Equality Paradox.

Remember last time you heard someone rave about how great their organisation is at gender equality? Turns out that when the evidence is analysed, they’re probably not.

For example, your organisations may have employed a Gender Equality Officer. So far so good. But look closer. Is the position well resourced or is it merely a box-ticking exercise? She (and it nearly always is a woman) may not have much of a budget and probably works flexible hours with limited resources and lack of management support. (She’s probably also expected to organise the International Women’s Day breakfast and other tokenistic tasks such as sourcing a few ‘ethnic-looking’ stock photos for the annual report).

The irony is that while employers may think they deserve praise for their Gender Equality Plan the reality is there is rarely an associated action plan that makes management accountable for delivery.

There’s a level of complacency that ‘the job’s sorted’ which leads to an action gap between the rhetoric and the behaviour. That is the paradox.

This Action Gap has been highlighted by WGEA as a serious issue in Australian workplaces. In November 2018 they reported that more than half of employers (58.4%) don’t even bother to scrutinise the basic data (such as pay data) for gender pay gaps. And of the 70% of employers who say they have a policy or strategy to support gender equality, most of them didn’t back the plans up with action. For instance, only 30% of employers with plans, made managers accountable for delivery with relevant KPIs. And of those employers that had conducted a pay gap analysis, only around 18% actually reported the results upwards to their Board for action. Even when gaps were identified, only a bit over a half of employers took any action to address the gaps identified (58%).

It’s a lot of talk without real action and its time it was challenged.

We’ve stalled

Here in Australia, WGEA reports women still face considerable barriers in the workplace and that ‘we still have a long way to go’. After five years of data, the trends show ‘virtually no movement in gender segregation across Australian industries and little improvement in either access to paid parental leave or the representation of women at CEO level or on boards.

This comes on top of the 2017 WEF Global Gender Gap Report estimates that it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity. ARGHHHH!

Anyone else yelling with me? Or are you still asking, ‘Why does it matter’? If you need to ask why it is worth getting cross about this lack of action, I suggest you check out WGEA’s updated guide on the business case for gender equality that demonstrates the benefits to people, workforces and our country. Equality is not only the right thing to pursue, but it also makes good economic sense.

Next time you hear someone from HR boasting about their ‘fantastic Gender Equality program’ dig deeper. Ask about the data they collect that demonstrates if it’s actually making any difference.

If you are interested in practical actions you can take to address the insidious barrier of merit, check out Avoiding the merit trap, a report by Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change.

And while we are at it, let’s ban the word MERIT, which Catherine Fox jokingly said stands for

M.E.R.I.T = Mates Elevated Regardless of Intellect or Talent

Let’s talk about suitability, capability and potential for exceptional performance. Let’s challenge the paradoxes and myths and reap the benefits of a fair and equitable workplace for women, men and our country. It’s time for the talk to reflect the walk and everyone to be given a fair go.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a gender equity advocate and champion for women in local government through her work as a consultant and coach. 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan 1 Comment

Why (would a woman go into) Politics?

It’s turbulent times in Australian politics. Many of us are shaking our heads at the games recently played out in the tumultuous environment of our federal parliament.

But, spare a thought for the women involved.  MPs Julie Bishop, Julia Banks, Emma Hauser and Sarah Hansen-Young are household names after recent events in federal parliament. But I bet these women would rather be known for their political leadership and public service contribution rather than examples of how gender can define political debate.

Increasingly, it seems these women may have sacrificed a lot in their efforts to represent their community.

A time of anguish

I remember the first time I saw the famous French sculpture of The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. Even though it was decades ago, the art continues to inspire me. Beautifully rendered in bronze, the sculpture captures the agonising surrender of six community leaders (Councillors), who in 14th Century France volunteered their lives in exchange for a peace deal. The victorious English King who had long waged war on their town wanted their heads. In Calais, France, the Burghers are in a group, their faces etched in agony, defeat and grief. They seem to be walking towards their death, nooses around their necks and the keys to the city in their hands.

The faces of those brave Burghers came back to me this week. This time, reflected in the anguished expressions of four, 21st Century, female politicians.

Through various media reports, I witnessed the chilled resignation on the face of Deputy Leader Julie Bishop, realising she had missed out on the top job despite 20 years of competent service. Federal MP Emma Hauser in near tears, defending her decision to step down in the face of hurtful, personal attacks which she described as untrue and a form of torture. Federal MP Julia Banks calling out ‘bullying and intimidation’ in her party which prompted her to quit at the next election after only one term. These came only weeks after Senator Sarah Hanson-Young instigated a defamation case against a male politician for his remarks to her which she says were ‘slut-shaming’ and caused her ‘considerable harm’.

Female leaders who have sacrificed themselves by stepping forward to represent those of us who desire an inclusive, fairer democracy.

Women are turning-off

I’m into politics. I support women to run for public office. When people ask me ‘why on earth would a clever, competent woman possibly consider running for public office when this goes on?’ I know it’s a good question.

Currently, women make up one-third of our State and Federal parliaments yet female representation has been slipping back in recent years. In terms of political empowerment of women, Australia used to rank 38th in the world eight years ago, now we are 48th.

We can’t afford for this to decline and for women to turn-off politics. For the sake of our country, our councils, our legislatures, we need women to be at the table; sharing the power and contributing to good decision-making for all of us. We can’t give up.

“It’s not good enough to be heard. Women must be at the decision-making table” Jacinda Ardern

We need female politicians

With greater representation from female politicians, democracy becomes more effective because we get to hear from ‘the other 50 per cent’. As a result, parliaments tend to be more inclusive and responsive.

Madeleine Albright said that women in power “can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses that others accept.”

Not only do women contribute different views, studies also show that women politicians engage more with constituents and are better lawmakers than men. American research into the legislative impact of women in politics found that:

“As more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities”.

The National Democratic Institute reports that when comparing male politicians to female politicians, from all parties, women tend to be more likely to:

  • work across party lines
  • be highly responsive to constituent concerns
  • help secure lasting peace
  • encourage citizen confidence in democracy through their own participation, and
  • prioritize health, education, and other key development indicators.

Another analysis suggests that parties that struggle to get women into parliament also find it harder to get women to vote for them. In short, a party with a ‘woman problem’ and a ‘boys-club’ culture may find that it has a problem with women voters.  The results of the next Federal election may demonstrate this.

Five reasons for a woman to run

Next time someone asks ‘why would a woman run for politics?’ here are my top reasons why I would encourage a woman to definitely consider politics:

  1. Successful democracies reflect the views of their citizens. Australia is a fair country. When women step up, we get to hear from the ‘other 50%’ of us.
  2. As a politician a woman has power. She can get stuff done. Why let the fellas have it all? Get to the table and have a say.
  3. There’s no point in complaining about the current situation if you are not prepared to be part of the solution. As the slogan goes ‘Don’t get mad, get elected’.
  4. ‘Be the change you want to see’. Become a role model for other women (and to those young girls who dream of being Prime Minister one day)
  5. Hillary Clinton said, ‘Politics is the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible’. As an elected representative you have the enormous privilege of making a positive a difference for your community, state or country. Grab it.

It’s time to run

Fortunately, those brave Burghers of Calais met a happy ending. According to Wikipedia, they were saved from their execution by a woman. The English queen persuaded her husband the king, to show mercy as their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.

In answer to that question: A diverse democracy thrives on the views of female politicians. Our parties need women candidates in order to win. We need female lawmakers for fairer decisions.

The data shows that our politics are improved with more women politicians. Let’s not see recent events as an omen for the future of inclusive politics. We can choose optimism over despair. It’s time to support women to stand for office or vote for them (if we like their policies). Let’s work together for more #WomenInPolitics.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a past Mayor, 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. Follow her on twitter @hula_grl  (Photos Wikipedia commons) 

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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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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 😉 www.ruthmcgowan.com  

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4 ways to Filter Feedback

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

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

Unwanted feedback vs useful advice

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

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

The four feedback filters 

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

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

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

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

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

Overlaying this is the second filter; qualified or not.

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

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

Quickly sort feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 ways a mediocre Mayor needs to become masterful

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

A masterful Mayor is competent, committed and connected.

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

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

Be Competent

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

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

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

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

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

Be Committed

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

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

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

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

Be Connected

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

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

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

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