Joe and Jill Biden, and Kamala Harris, have the potential to take the heat out of the division in the US that’s been such a feature of its national culture during the Trump years. And if their messaging is really powerful their influence can flow through to the way our Australian leaders talk and behave, which will in turn filter into our boardrooms and C-suites.
We believe, in the years post-COVID, there is going to be a much greater focus on the quality of company culture and the impact it has on employees. Leaders are going to be measured much more by the finer points of their company’s culture.
We are witnessing a seismic shift in world politics with the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the United States. Peter Wilkinson, how will this change leadership and culture around the world and filter down to us here in Australia?
Well, it has the potential to have a massive effect, but first, my prediction is that culture is going to become a buzzword for the next couple of years. And I say that because of the impact of culture, or the impact of bushfires on culture, and the impact of COVID on culture in Australia. The way both of them have impacted companies, and the way they’ve impacted families, from watching television at home.
And cultures are sort of a weird term because everybody sort of understands what it means, it’s the way we do things around here. But deeper than that, there are three important components of culture. The first is the people, the way individuals behave, and the way, more importantly, the way they interact. The second is the importance of understanding where the company, the country, or the family has been and where they’re going. And the third is the level of ambition, and ambition is driven by, there’s always a motivator, and often it’s fear. Fear of the consequences of doing the same thing, the fear of losing a job, the fear of not having enough money, not being able to pay mortgages. A huge motivation for change and the impact on culture.
So along comes Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and Doctor Biden, at the end of this appalling period that we’ve been through. And people copy leaders. So, leaders copy leaders, companies copy leaders, and the easiest example of that is knowing that women watch other women. So, women will replicate a lot of what Kamala Harris and what doctor Biden do in terms of hairstyles and fashion. And it’s the same for blokes, but it’s slightly more subtle. That’s at a trivial level, at a deeper level people will watch and imitate, to a degree, what Joe Biden does, and Kamala Harris. And one of the significant things he said in one of his speeches is, “The purpose of our politics isn’t to fan the flame of conflict, but to solve problems.”
Now that kind of messaging is going to flow through to the way other leaders behave. So that’s going to be the impact of he and Kamala Harris on the world, and on Australia. And remember, we see it every night in our living rooms and television.
Two points there I want to pick up on and apply locally. Key messages and fear, both things that Annastacia Palaszczuk used in her election campaign to great success, but some may believe morally debatable, and that key message of fear in COVID, and it was keeping Queenslanders safe by keeping the borders shut. And that played beautifully to the parochial nature of Queenslanders and won her the election, but at the cost of jobs, livelihoods, businesses, and ramifications that may be felt for years to come. My question is, how do you reconcile her successful campaign that was built off the back of perhaps debatable ethics?
Well, time will tell, but one of the rules in communicating is, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all at the time. And there’s the risk that it will backfire because people will very quickly realize that it was a hollow message. Now compare that with Gladys Berejiklian and Jacinda Ardern. Jacinda Ardern has now become known, she’s become a role model, talk about culture change, she’s become a role model from little old New Zealand for around the world and the way leaders should behave in terms of empathy. And Gladys Berejiklian has been deeply genuine, including in the way she handled how she dealt with the issue with her boyfriend, who turned out to have problems and is in front of ICAC, and how she fessed up, and her authenticity has shown through and her transparency about the problems.
Now one of the things about Gladys Berejiklian is she’s had a rough road as a premiere until COVID, and then she had a severely bad event with the Ruby Princess. So that sort of, if you like, prepared her for COVID, so she was ready for it. She knew how to deal with it, and she knew the importance of authenticity and good messaging. Annastacia Palaszczuk, it may work long-term, that kind of messaging, but as you say, the risk is she’s going to be caught out because the economy will tank as a consequence.
What do you make of the culture in Canberra at the moment? It’s certainly in the spotlight with Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, two federal ministers accused of infidelity. One has admitted to it, one has denied it. It’s a huge issue that will continue to play out in the coming weeks. How do you see that developing?
So important culturally, because of the weird nature of the Canberra bubble, and the culture in the Canberra bubble. Its men behaving badly, it’s a misunderstanding of the power imbalance, and it’s the objectification of women, all of which are complete no-nos. Although on the other side, you have to be aware that men and women are drawn to people in power. So, it flows both ways, but the responsibility always in those two instances is on the blokes. And Alan Tudge came out quickly, to his credit, and apologized. It doesn’t get him off the hook. Christian Porter’s behaviour has been a little more complicated because he’s denied what happened.
The significance there is that relationships always happen at work. It’s just a fact of life with culture in the workplace. What we can say is that people of deep integrity never get into the jam that those two men got into. The second thing I’d say is that ScoMo, for all his other flaws, excelled in that he was able to spin the bonking ban, which has a kind of grubby term that Malcolm Turnbull used, into something of far more substance with his message, which I think shows a depth in ScoMo. He said, “And there’s no greater thing that breaks my heart than the breakdown of a family. It breaks my heart, and frankly, that’s the thing that bothers me most.”
So, he was able to change the messaging. Regardless of what you think of ScoMo, he was able to change the messaging, and that kind of messaging, if it’s repeated and repeated and repeated, can actually create culture change. Maybe not in the Canberra bubble, but because it’s broadcast into lounge rooms repetitively, it can have an influence, not only in families but remember leaders sit in lounge rooms at night, too, so it can have an impact on the way people behave in the workplace. So that’s the importance of leaders and culture.
And so, coming back to Joe Biden. Joe Biden has a real potential to change the culture around the world because he says, “I want people to talk to each other. I don’t want people to fight, and I want people to collaborate.” That has the potential, and Kamala Harris has the potential, through her influence as a powerful woman, and a clever speaker, to change the way all of us behave.
It will be fascinating to watch how all of this unfold over the coming months and coming years of their term. Peter Wilkinson, thank you.
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