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10 tips politics could take from business

When even the new Prime Minister has called our national political scene a ‘Muppet Show’, you know things are a bit of a mess.

Constantly changing leaders, claims of bullying, allegations of corruption, sleaze, personal attacks, sexism and school-yard theatrics…it all combines to make us turn-off from politics.

We might roll our eyes and despair, but the truth is we can’t afford to disengage. Politics is too important for that. The decisions our elected representatives make every day, affects our daily lives and we need to stay engaged.

‘You can choose not to be interested in politics, but you can’t choose to be unaffected by it’  Senator Penny Wong

What can politics learn from business?

Just imagine if federal politics was a listed company? The share price would be in free-fall. However, it’s hard to imagine shareholders in corporate Australia tolerating this sort of thing in a corporate board.

Many politicians have business experience. Maybe it’s time they followed the example of corporate Australia and hit the reset button.

Here are ten things they could consider that might help reverse the decline in political trust.

1.Articulate a vision of excellence

Companies that deliver outstanding customer service, are organisations that have a clear vision and a strong corporate culture. Think of QANTAS airlines which has a vision of ‘being the best’ and aims to be Australia’s premium airline. This guides the corporate values and the actions of staff so they have pride in working to do the best they can, every day they go to work.

Political leadership is about setting a vision of excellence and then ‘walking the talk’ of values and behaviour.

2. Build your future workforce

The future belongs to millennial employees.  Smart organisations have programs to attract and retain talented staff, such as the mentoring program at Mars Australia, winner of the 2017 Great Places to Work.

Political party membership is declining.  More voters are now supporting minor parties and independents. At the last federal election, one in four votes drifted away from the ALP and the Liberal/National Coalition. The days of the two-party duopoly are in decline.

3. Create a great culture

Successful organisations are known for their attractive culture and being great places to work. It’s not just about the job location, salary and staff benefits; it’s about ‘the way we do things around here’.

A political party needs a culture that inspires people to join up, stay and help with election campaigns. If the culture is toxic, political membership dives along with voters’ support.

4. Diversify or die-off

Savvy businesses have diversity and inclusion policies in order to embrace the unique experiences, voices and opinions of their diverse employees. They know that diversity “makes good business sense” and is “clearly linked to improvements in organisational performance, effectiveness, profitability and revenue generation” as articulated by the Diversity Council of Australia

Our politicians need to better reflect our diverse citizens in gender and cultural background.  We are a nation of immigrants, and half of Australia’s population is either first- or second-generation migrants and 51% female.  This is not reflected in Federal Parliament where less than a third of Members are female and according to analysis, fewer than 20 of the 226 parliamentarians serving have a non-English speaking background – less than 9 per cent.

5. Consider the downside risks before sacking the CEO

When a CEO has a track record of creating shareholder value and the stock price is good, most boards extend his/her tenure.  They know the risks of sacking a popular CEO on the share price; especially if the decision is hasty and not well explained to the market.

Before he was sacked, Malcolm Turnbull was the preferred Prime Minister by 19 per cent on his rival Bill Shorten according to one News Poll. Many voters, regardless of their political views, can’t understand why he was knifed. They didn’t like it when the ALP did it to PM Kevin Rudd either.

If you’re going to sack your leader, you probably need to explain the decision to shareholders or suffer the ramifications.

6. Recruit the best by being the best

Top companies invest in excellent recruitment practices to attract and keep the best talent. At it’s best it is based on merit. Increasingly Australians see politics as a ‘jobs for the boys’ recruitment process. It seems candidates must come from the right faction (or union), have a powerful party mentor, be a good fund-raiser or maybe they are an ambitious ex-staffer of the retiring member.

To thrive, political parties could aim to recruit on merit, not connections.

7. Manels are so last century

All-male panels, or ‘Manels’, are fast becoming a thing of the past. This is in part to pushback on social media of yet another all-male line up at a conference or industry event. Also because of the Male Champions of Change Panel Pledge and the commitment of corporate leaders and speakers to speak only on diverse panels.

Wouldn’t it be great if political leaders took the panel pledge when forming their front bench?

8. Evaluate performance regularly 

CEOs, Executives and most employees are subject to regular performance plan reviews. It keeps things on track and projects aligned to the company vision.

What would the KRAs be for politicians? Here are three simple goals; a prosperous economy, look after people (especially the vulnerable and needy) and secure the long-term future of the environment.

9. Emphasise integrity and ethics

Strong corporate governance is critical to a company’s success. Follow the law, manage conflicts of interest, practice integrity in all business dealings.  If there are concerns, it’s reported to the regulatory authorities ASIC and ACCC.

Trust is declining in politicians. At the National level, we don’t yet have a federal anti-corruption watchdog. Perhaps it’s time. It can investigate concerns about influential political donations, transparency of lobbyists, whistle-blowers and behaviour of politicians.

10. Listen to your customer research

Customer and market research is essential to support a company’s business objectives. This research is important to understand customer satisfaction levels or testing a new product.  When there is overwhelming demand for (or against) a product, a company listens. If not, there can be disastrous consequences; remember the Kraft brand disaster with Vegemite iSnack 2.0?

Given more than two-thirds of Australians supported marriage equality, it’s clear that most people are supportive of equality and a fair go for their fellow citizens.  Sexist, racist, divisive policies are not going to fly with most Aussies.  Great leaders embrace difference, they are not threatened by it.

What other tips would you add from your workplace to assist politicians and political parties?

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant and coach to local government. She delivers training to support quality candidates to Get Elected to public office. Ruth is also a former Mayor, Councillor and advocate for gender equality and diversity in political representation. https://ruthmcgowan.com/


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What dirty politics can teach you about protecting your brand

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

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

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

Domain theft

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

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

Political dirty tricks

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

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

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

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

Could it happen to you?

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

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

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

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

Fake news could hit you too

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

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

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

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

Protect your brand

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

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

Think of it as an investment in brand name insurance.

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

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

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

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How to make a tough decision a good decision

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

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

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

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

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

What the Greeks left us to think about

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

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

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

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

The three considerations of making a difficult decision a good one

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

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

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

Three questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Declining trust

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

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

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

Holding leaders accountable for making good decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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Appearance still matters in politics

 “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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

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

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

 Why it matters

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

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

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

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

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

How clothes proclaim the woman too

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

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

But there’s often a double standard in place

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

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

What to wear

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

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

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

Keep it real

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

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

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

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

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

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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