One of my favourite journalists is Annabel Crabb. Her columns are intelligent, witty and always thought provoking. In her Sun Herald column last Sunday (P. 33) Annabel’s headline was “Shamelessness key to political greatness.”
Her basic premise is that shamelessness is required by politicians for them to be able to “shimmy out of previously held opinions.” Without shamelessness, she writes, “politicians would be bogged down permanently by obligations.”
Annabel uses examples of political leaders who have the shamelessness gene, and they come from both sides of politics and can be found in Federal and State politics. Newly anointed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, former Prime Ministers John Howard, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke all have the shamelessness gene. Throw in Liberal Leader Tony Abbott, and don’t forget Peter Beattie, Former Queensland Premier, and now former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. According to Annabel, they’ve all mastered the dark science of ‘shamelessness’ and it is a character trait that is “key to political greatness”.
What can we draw from this appraisal of what creates ‘greatness’ in our political leaders?
Research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, Brene Brown who now focuses her research on what she refers to as the Gifts Of Imperfection (also the title of her latest book), had previously dedicated her career to studying difficult emotions like shame, fear, and vulnerability.
Brown reports that her research shows “Yes, we all struggle with shame and the fear of not being enough. And yes, many of us are afraid to let our true selves be seen and known.”
Annabel Crabb’s observation that shamelessness is key to political greatness fires a warning bell for what we as Australians ought to accept as positive character traits in our politicians and leaders within our corporate world and wider community as well.
While there seems to be an increasing focus (and rightly so) on the on and off field character failings of our professional sportspeople, raising questions about the influence they are having as role models for our children, why is it that we just seem to accept as a nation that it’s alright for the people we elect to lead our country to consistently display character flaws through their behaviour, that most thinking Australians would hopefully be teaching our children not to be practising?
Is leadership research cutting through into daily practice?
In the 1980’s, I was in my twenties, working as a training officer for the Rural Bank of NSW. I was researching what it meant to be a ‘good leader’ in preparation for a training program we were developing for front-line supervisors. I can’t remember what the report was titled or where the research was from, but I can remember that way back then one of the key problems facing Australian businesses was a lack of leadership. The report suggested the biggest issue was that emerging leaders did not have many role models within the corporate world, upon which to base their own leadership character and behaviours.
Seems to me not that much has changed over the years – especially if we continue to accept that for political leaders to be able to do their job and get on with running the country, shamelessness is something we just have to live with.
Is that really what we want as a nation? Is that really what young Liberal and Labor Party members and aspiring political leaders would personally choose as a descriptor of their character in a job advertisement?
But forget politicians for the moment, and consider in your own place of work, what are the leadership characteristics you’re personally seeing in the front-line, middle and upper management levels? Is shamelessness evident?
Employee engagement has been a focus for the past decade now – and one of the constants that most of the research proves is employees become disengaged when they can’t trust their leaders.
So despite all the training, education, research and programs since my early twenties when I first read that report on leadership (or lack of), what advancements have we really made? If we just apathetically accept that shamelessness is a trait required for success in political leadership, my hunch is we’re sadly, just apathetically accepting a lot of undesirable traits in our leaders across the broader community.