Why Leaders Succeed (and Patterns for Failure)

Will our PM, Anthony Albanese’s communication skills hold him up or tear him down? We learn about communicating as a leader by watching others, especially politicians.

Tony Abbott probably epitomised one extreme; he was divisive and a pugilist. 

 

Already we’ve seen the PM’s Jobs & Skills Summit highlight a different leadership quality: collaboration. 

 

Every leader rallies followers differently. As communication professionals, however, we look for patterns – the markers for success or failure – to help us as advisers and mentors. Here are the five big ones:

 

1. Disunity:

Argument in a leadership team is poison, particularly during a crisis or rapid change, leading to time-wasting and compromised board-room or executive decisions. Speaking to insiders, I understand the PM may show us a trick or two at maintaining cohesion – a great communication skill – either by finding a middle ground on divisive issues without weakening policy, or shackling opponents. 

 

2. Personality:

That indefinable quality in a leader that you can’t describe but can identify when you see it. Every leader struggles to find their sweet spot,  and changing a personality trait is hard. 

 

Once the honeymoon is over, will we want to get behind Albo and his vision? The new PM’s attributes or handicaps will include his attention to detail, his values and behaviours (under pressure will he default to his hard-left roots?), his capacity for risk, his tolerance for other viewpoints and inclusiveness, his resilience, persistence, capacity for hard work and a host of other attributes, including that other indefinable, his likeability. 

 

When we are mentoring leaders we look for the positives we can highlight. A strong personality, attention to detail, single-mindedness – there are many. 

 

And, of course, strengths can become weaknesses. Single-mindedness was a Morrison strength, but that same stubbornness became a fail point.

 

3. Messaging:  This is the big one.

Will Albo have the communication skills to keep the community travelling on his journey?  He will be judged by both words and actions. 

 

The Indigenous Voice to Parliament will be a major stress test on the PM’s ability to unite the community, particularly once the debate gets into detail.

 

When we mentor on messaging we encourage simplicity, so that people can understand easily. 

  • First, define the journey – where are we taking the company (from a definable point A to B).
  • Then what are the three to five behaviours that are going to get us there. An aged care organisation is going to want a completely different set of behaviours (starting with kindness) to a construction company (starting with safety). 

The key to good messaging is simplicity, and then communicating it repeatedly. 

 

4. Nimbleness:

Can our leader quickly adapt to circumstances? In a world of rapid change this is more a fail point for ‘stuck-in-the-mud’ business leaders than politicians who must stay ahead of the daily narrative.

 

5. Mistakes:

A leader can build a reputation over a career and trash it with one incident. The new PM will be remembered for his mistakes, and how he manages them, more than for his successes. It’s an unfortunate reality that, while building a reputation involves many talents, the business pages of newspapers are filled with leaders whose careers have been trashed by a mistake in one aspect of a complex career.