Compulsive leadership posturing

“Get on with it” erupted loudly from the sitting room this morning as if an after dinner speaker was just taking far, far, far too long to make any point at all.

But it wasn’t caused by an after dinner or breakfast speaker, just someone watching our Prime Minister exuding that faux sincerity and concern that Elmer Gantry personified. The problem apparently was that instead of getting to the point of what new measures were being put in place to deal with the pandemic he was spending time assuring us that Australia would get through it because we are Australians and uttering assorted other similar platitudes.

An hour and half later he was still talking. Now there are many types of leadership – well actually only one – but nevertheless we see references to inspired leadership, intellectual leadership etc etc etc.

Our Prime Minister, fresh from his bushfire debacle, is pioneering a new form – compulsive leadership, in which the sufferer from the condition feels compelled to spend time showing that he/she is a leader.

When he got away from the platitudes he ploughed on reading, in a monotone, the full list of new measures. Nobody absorbs that sort of information just by listening. They need some means – on paper or on screen – which they can read and digest. In presentation terms it adds up to overkill in which quantity overwhelms quality. The sensible approach is to provide some key headings, outline the principles and rationale and then hand over to the expert to give the detail. It may even be one of those rare occasions when you use PowerPoint.

In making these sorts of speeches one of the dumb things to do is to tell people not to panic – which anyone who has ever watched Dad’s Army – knows is the quickest way to make people do exactly that and probably exactly what the PM did too.

The PM’s presentation was reminiscent of a 1960s’s Cabinet Minister’ speech, of which Mungo MacCallum wrote, that in the subjective time he had been speaking amoebas had emerged from the primeval swamp, evolved into humans, spread around the world and flew to the Moon. Actual objective time was a few minutes.

But the PM now needs, compulsively, to be seen to be in charge and in control. There was much discussion of the latest Newspoll in which his approval rating rose and suggestions that this was a result of his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Yet far less attention was given to the fact that his disapproval rating is at Donald Trump levels even if it hasn’t yet sunk to Jeremy Corbyn levels.

And speaking of compulsive behaviour there are hints that some of his colleagues think he might be over-doing it a bit. The hints are cast in terms of worries about his health, stress and workload but others might well be suspecting that he is becoming a supercharged ‘Eddie Everywhere’ Maguire whose appearances are counter-productive with some audiences – particularly those that know him from both football and the Stan Grant documentary on Adam Goodes or, in the PM’s case the bushfires.

Meanwhile, the Government is still captive to its ideological biases and determination to continue to rubbish the Rudd-Swan years whatever the evidence. So yet again the handouts come thick and fast to business with some derisory amounts to pensioners and others – of which about 30% of which will probably be spent. But by ignoring the option so long, when shelves are empty and people are self-isolating, even a major cash splash among those most likely to spend may be limited in impact.

The PM seems not to understand, leaders don’t have to demonstrate they are leaders – they just are. True leadership doesn’t have a particular style or descriptor. It just is.

And, by the way, he also can’t escape other compulsive behaviours – in particular hand shaking. Pictures of him greeting the NSW Premier, and extending his hand to shake hers while she withdraws in horror, show he hasn’t learnt from the bushfire experience and doesn’t listen to his own Government’s advice.