What business leaders can learn from the Federal Election 2016

This election represents a clear failure of leadership. It is also a mirror for many of our organisations. The issues that are at the source of the election results are the same issues that are at the source of increasing cynicism in our business leaders and the low levels of engagement of the workforce.

It’s worth reflecting on the lessons that this election can offer.

In my opinion, here are the key messages –

1. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, if people don’t trust you, they won’t believe you and therefore won’t engage. The foundation of trust is AUTHENTICITY i.e. your behaviour reliably reflects your values and what is truly important to you demonstrating trustworthiness i.e. worthy of trust. On the whole, politicians are not trusted and their behaviour is the reason. For example, accusing the other side of running a scare campaign and lying, when you in turn did the same thing in the past is inauthentic and people see through it immediately. It’s political expediency at the expense of integrity.

People stopped engaging with Malcolm Turnbull when he did not stand up for what he believed in his own party. He accepted the role of Prime Minister knowing that he would have to compromise his values and lead a party whose position on issues such as marriage equality and climate change were not consistent with his views. Why did he accept the leader’s role knowing that the views of his party were not authentic for him? Result – 20% drop over 6 months in people’s perception of his leadership.

2. The world is changing at an ever increasing rate hastened by access to information through social media and the internet. People’s worldviews, including their values and what they expect are changing rapidly. For example, more and more people, especially younger people are seeing themselves as global citizens and therefore want our leaders to be responsible for global issues such as climate change, treatment of asylum seekers and the ever widening income inequality. Leaders who do not challenge their own beliefs, assumptions and ‘truths’ risk becoming obsolete and irrelevant. Holding onto past ‘traditional’ views because you think they are the ‘universally right’ views, especially in the face of clear feedback that those views are not consistent with the broader community means people will disengage with you and look for other alternatives.

3. Blaming others and not taking responsibility is no longer going to cut it. Being a victim and blaming everything except yourself damages credibility and trust. It sets a victim tone or culture for the nation which leads to further polarisation and division in our society. It is an environment based on fear.

There are parallels in our organisations – just look at the large number of people disengaged with their employer, low retention rates, the low number of women on boards and the executive suite and the damaged credibility and trustworthiness of many of our largest businesses. I see a huge opportunity for organisations to focus on integrity, authenticity and responsibility as the source of their behaviour. People are already attracted to these organisations, and I propose that the business results will far exceed organisations that have inauthentic, irresponsible and inflexible cultures.


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