Why good leadership is more than informed decision making
So much has been written about the LNP government’s handling of the Australian bushfire crisis, in particular calling into question the leadership of Scott Morrison. And, whilst I have my personal views on this, from a professional perspective, his approach from the time the crisis started back in spring of last year, has played out almost like the ultimate case study in what not to do in a disaster situation.
Whilst it’s accepted that leaders need to make informed decisions, one crucial aspect of any crisis situation is communication.
This may seem like an obvious point but, so often, so-called leaders, whether in government or business, choose to stay silent thinking it is their safest option.
But, when all is said and done, if you hold a position of leadership you have an obligation to keep those you are leading informed. That doesn’t mean that you need to share every minor detail about a situation. Often choosing to keep information to yourself also signifies strong and considered leadership. But it does mean that you share information to keep people in the loop, minimise fears and avoid mis-information and scare mongering.
One of the greatest issues in this crisis has been the proliferation of, at best, inaccurate information and, at worst, deliberately misleading information. In the age of social media, every organisation has to be mindful of what gets shared online. Silence just feeds into this kind of activity, leading to further distress, anxiety and anger.
So much of Mr Morrison’s actions came across as divisive, contradictory and left the nation feeling scared about the current unfolding horrors and worried about the future. And, by taking an initial position of not addressing concerns and then contradicting initial statements, the nation was left wondering what to believe.
Decisive action based on expert advice and being present are essential in a crisis, but knowing how, what and when to communicate underpins everything.
But this is not about bringing in a better PR team to provide advice that might help the government seem better or more attuned to general sentiment. Even with a carefully crafted PR message, truly authentic engagement with a situation supported by considered information and announcements is the only thing that works in this situation. Anything less than that becomes token and unacceptable to those on the receiving end.
Probably the most crucial element missing from Scott Morrison’s actions in recent months was any element of listening. At every stage, whether before the bushfire season began and the fire chiefs wanted to present their report, after his return from holiday, during the worst days and making announcements about the future, Scott Morrison failed to listen to and understand the concerns, fears or outrage of Australians.
Without this key aspect of communication, every statement and action was just a one-way street, delivering only the government’s and Scott Morrison’s position, with little or no acknowledgment of the fears or concerns of those for whom he is responsible. No matter who you are leading, considered communication that informs and reassures, especially during a crisis, ensures that you deliver greatness as a leader and retain that position into the future.