In what must have been the longest running election campaign in our history, we witnessed a true presidential style campaign that would do justice to American elections.
Although we have a Westminster Parliamentary form of government, our federal election campaigns have nevertheless morphed into the American Presidential style of campaigning with the outcome determined pretty much by the image, trustworthiness and personality of the Party Leader.
In America, you vote for presidential candidates separately to the Party he or she may represent. So it is not unusual to elect a Republican President and yet have a Democratic Congress or vise versa.
Paradoxically, most of us do not have the opportunity to vote directly for the Party Leaders unless we happen to live in their electorate. Yet the Prime Ministerial candidates usually have a big impact on the election outcome. Even more so today with modern technology and the 24-hour news cycle focussing primarily on the respective Party Leaders and their campaigning skills.
The 2013 election was a textbook study of two distinctly different Party Leaders with contrasting personalities, styles and policies.
Although many bemoan the drift toward presidential style electioneering, there are a number of positives that flow from it. The most significant being able to observe how both leaders respond to constant and intense pressure as this could be a precursor to the way they deal with the challenges of High Office, particularly during a crisis. As the winner will be leading and hopefully inspiring the nation to strive for excellence, leadership skills are paramount to this endeavour.
So what are the characteristics of leadership?
- First and foremost having a vision and a plan to achieve the vision.
- Effective communication skills.
- Leading by example with a ‘Can Do’ persona and indefatigable energy.
- Being good at delegation and praising those who carry out their responsibilities.
- Being proactive rather than re-active.
- Having a self-deprecating sense of humour.
- Being a good listener and respective of others.
- The ability to inspire.
After closely observing performances of both contenders throughout this lengthy federal election campaign, I believe Abbott won hands down on the essential characteristic of leadership.
He had a vision for Australia as enunciated in his book Battlelines, published in 2009. But for the campaign, his battle cry was concisely communicated with his promise to “Remove the Carbon Tax, Remove the Mining Tax and Stop the Boats”. He delegated superbly to Shadow Cabinet Members who supported his central theme while expanding on specific details relating to their responsibilities. Throughout the campaign, he remained proactive and occasionally showed his self-deprecating sense of humour – remember the ‘Daggy Dad’ episode. Abbott inspired his team with his indefatigable energy and passion.
Rudd, on the other hand, is not a team player and therefore devoid of many key leadership qualities. In his first term as Prime Minister, deficient leadership was largely responsible for his overthrow by Labor’s ‘Faceless Men’. Then after ‘white anting’ Julia Gillard for the ensuing three years he was recalled to lead the Party into the 2013 election. But it was the same old Kevin. If he had a plan, he did not stick to it or effectively communicate it. Rudd appeared to vacillate from one ‘thought bubble’ to the next, depending on what he judged his audiences wanted to hear. A populist is not a leader. His record for ‘overpromising and under delivering’ during his time as Prime Minister made it difficult for constituents to take seriously any undertaking he promised.
Rudd failed on several essential leadership qualities. He was not a good delegator, did not seem interested in listening to views of others, rarely publically praised his team and failed in the trustworthy stakes.
Because it was all about Kevin, teamwork was missing throughout his campaign and sorely tested his credibility with the electorate. Governments need strong, reliable leadership if they are to be successful but both the Rudd and Gillard failed dismally in this most rudimentary quality of successful Prime Ministers.
So it was not surprising that Australia voted this dysfunctional government out of office on 7 September 2013, as there was only one real leader in the race for government. Hopefully Mr. Abbott will build on his success and go on to be one of our great leaders, giving us the adult government promised.