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Where are the real leaders?


Where are the real leaders?

A looming federal election has Jane Stephens asking why we’re already sick of the campaigning, and she’s come up with an answer.

The great political slugfest has begun. We are being sent to the polls next month to choose the person we want to speak for us in Commonwealth parliament and make laws that we all must live by, like them or not.

But even before the boxing match properly starts, we are tired of it.

While this has been blamed on politicians seemingly perpetually campaigning, I contend the real reason is that none – not a single one – of our political leaders truly inspires us. None has given us their ‘why’.

The ‘why’ is imperative – as important as the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

The ‘why’ is what inspires people to rally behind a cause, to sit tight in a job when times are tough and to stick with a relationship when it falters.

Top coaches use it to help motivate great athletes to become champions. Good counsellors use it to help a stuck person tackle their sticky problem. And strong leaders use it to galvanise support that lasts beyond the next opinion poll.

It is one of the key questions in any job interview: why do you want to work here? The query checks whether the applicant has any sense of the company’s values, culture and ethos.

Politicians need to give us their ‘why’.

What are their core values, beyond their political party affiliations? What is their motivation for spending this money on that thing or planning this change for that group?

A Harvard Business Review article in 2020 on leadership through a time of exponential change contended that so-called sapient leadership brought openness, humility and authenticity to the fore, pointing out that the days of the ‘leader as hero’ model are over.

More than a decade ago, a book called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action introduced a new leadership model. Author Simon Sinek compared the two main ways to influence human behaviour: manipulation and inspiration, arguing inspiration was the more powerful and sustainable of the two.

The ripple effects last longer when people are moved rather than manipulated because they are carried by belief rather than lured by temptation.

Please, please give us some of that.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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