There’s something about a political leadership spill that creates compelling television viewing.
We get to see a lot of such spills in this country, so we’re all well acquainted with how they go down. The challenge is issued, the individual challenged says ‘bring it on’, a number of frontbenchers get on television to try and convince their colleagues how to vote.
But it becomes compelling to watch because it’s during a crisis of leadership that politicians suddenly become human.
They do human things. They show their disloyalties. They get emotional. They fail to pick the right horse. The extent of their ambitions — and how far they’ll go to support such ambitions — are put out for everyone to see. They’re forced to confront realities that have been brewing for some time. Their careers crumble before the cameras.
Really, it should be horrible to watch and yet we can’t look away.
There was one thing I found particularly telling about Monday night, as Tony Abbott lost a challenge for the Liberal leadership by Malcolm Turnbull, and consequently his job as prime minister. Like many people, I stayed up well beyond the result was known, waiting for Abbott’s concession speech. It didn’t come.
Waking up early the next morning, I looked for it on Twitter and on the news. Nothing.
Tuesday mid morning and the media were still searching for Tony Abbott. There were helicopters chasing what they thought was his car, before it drove into a car wash in Canberra.
More than 14 hours after losing the leadership, Abbott delivered a short speech. There were reports he’d officially resigned as Prime Minister by fax.
It’s understandable. He’d just lost his job in a very public and particularly humiliating way.
But I couldn’t help but recall a similar moment just over two years earlier.
When former prime minister Julia Gillard lost the labor leadership ballot to Kevin Rudd, she was out in front of the media within the hour. She gave a stirring speech that many of us can still quote today. She finished with a message for her Labor party colleauges: “Don’t lack the guts, don’t lack the fortitude, don’t lack the resilience to go out there”.
And three years before that, Kevin Rudd did something similar when he lost the prime ministership. He outlined his achievements, he thanked his family, he acknowledged his successor.
Reacting to adversity makes us human. Resilience makes us leaders.
Today at our Sydney Women’s Agenda Network breakfast, we heard from Pandora managing director Jane Huxley and XPlore for Success founder and former Apple MD Diana Ryall on the subject of resilience. They are two leaders who work at their resilience every single day. They admitted to plenty of failures, and numerous knockdowns.
But they’ve used such experiences to develop solid strategies for managing adversity — not just the big, life interrupting and even threatening things that emerge (Ryall has battled breast cancer), but the everyday setbacks that come up in leadership and business.
A key theme that emerged this morning was disruption, and the need to be able to manage and enjoy the disruption that will increasingly become part of our working lives..
In the political arena, we’re getting to know disruption well. Waking up to a new prime minister, despite there being no election the previous day, is still a difficult thing to comprehend but something we’re increasingly starting to recognise as a fact of political life.
In business, some are acquainted with disruption, but plenty are not. It’s those that make disruption an underlying factor of their careers who will succeed. That may mean inventing your own job, or creating a new role for yourself within an organisation. It may mean abandoning skills you spent time acquiring in the past, only to acquire a whole new skillset in the future. It will mean accepting the profession you have today may not exist in the future.
The difficult thing is that disruption shares an alliance with failure. You can’t aim to completely shift the status quo without breaking a few things along the way. Huxley knows this well, having worked in the digital, media and telco space for more than 25 years. She says failure is now a key performance indicator. If she’s not failing, she’s not moving forward.
Failure is a difficult thing to embrace and to accept. We want to believe that hard work always brings success. We want to believe that those brilliant ideas we have will generate brilliant results, and that we will be rewarded accordingly. That doesn’t always happen, if it happens at all.
But what if we could speak up about our failures more often? What if they simply became a part of business meetings and lunchtime conversations?
Indeed, what if our politicians — particularly our previous three prime ministers — spoke out about their failures? Admitted things went wrong, veered off course and then legitimately attempted to create a new path? It’s one thing to say “good government starts today”, as Tony Abbott did six months ago when he was given a second opportunity by his party, but another to outline exactly where a government and it’s leadership has gone wrong, and what’s been learnt from such failings.
So what if failure became a common discussion point, instead of something we privately just tortured ourselves over?
Perhaps, we would see new prime ministers come to power through elections, rather than at the whim of their party colleagues. Perhaps we’d see business leaders innovating to create better workplaces, as well as greater products and services, rather than simply doing everything possible to stay safe and predictable in their roles.
If you can’t be resilient enough to embrace failure, you shouldn’t be in leadership.
Check out our Melbourne event on resilience on the 7th October, and check back with Women’s Agenda for a comprehensive list of strategies for strengthening your resilience, based on this morning’s breakfast.
Big thank you to our breakfast partners CitiGold and the Melbourne Business School for making this morning possible, also to Kim McGuinness and Network Central, a business we acquired last year to support this program.