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So what is leadership really?

So what is leadership really?

I was reading about Christine Nixon criticising the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission and it struck me that we all have different ideas about leadership.

Nixon had claimed that the Royal Commission was the “worst kind of kangaroo court”. The media, in particular the News Ltd papers had taken a dim view of Nixon having a meal in a pub on Black Saturday, likening her to Emperor Nero, eating while Victoria burned.

Nixon had previously said about leadership on the ABC:

“But I think there’s a line about leadership for me that I think’s really important and it’s not about privilege, it’s not about rank. It’s not about popularity but it is about responsibility.”

I think that claiming leadership is about responsibility and then criticising the Royal Commission which said that “elements of the leadership provided on 7 February were wanting” is a little transparent. Delegating or abdicating authority in a crisis is not responsible and it is poor leadership.

Nixon made a point of talking about leadership during her time as Police Commissioner and appears to be trying to resurrect her career and create some controversy to sell some copies of her book. She strikes me as being the worst kind of hypocrite. It would be better if she wrote about what she learnt about leadership throughout the Royal Commission and how she realised that true leadership was about stepping up and helping other people feel like leaders. Or whatever she realised but isn’t saying.

So what is leadership really?

For me, it is an over-used corporate weasel word. Leadership group. Team Leader. Senior Leader. Leading edge. Leading the way. Bullshit most of it. Leadership is about showing grit in tough times and inspiring others to show the same grit and be leaders themselves. The leaders who have inspired me have motivated me to act against my better judgement and avoid reflecting on any perceived short comings,  they have shown me that I have within myself the capacity to lead and inspire others.

Is that what Christine Nixon was doing when she left her deputies in charge at the emergency Response Centre on 7 Feb 2009? Perhaps that is exactly what she intended. The shame is that it didn’t work. According to the Royal Commission report, there was no one really in charge. The situation called for someone to show a way forward in a difficult situation and in that Christine Nixon failed. Having a quick Chicken Schnitzel dinner sent the wrong message and was not the right thing to do.

One of my favourite quotes about leadership is from George W. Bush:

“I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together.”

Or perhaps a better quote from Michel Foucault is:

“The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”

For me, leadership is about acting and enabling others to act without threats or violence.

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What do you think?