Leadership and reality

If you listen to talkback radio it’s not a pretty picture painted of our country. We’re broke, it feels like a recession, those that can least afford it can afford it even less, crime is rampant.

An opinion poll came out this evening which showed the National Party on 57.5% compared with Labour’s 28%. All of this in the middle of a lot of crises – the earthquakes, the AMI guarantee, South Canterbury Finance, all of which put together are going to leave us no change from $10 billion. Notice how suddenly everything seems to cost in the billions now? When did that happen? We hardly blinked for more than a day when AMI was guaranteed by us for up to $1 billion. A few days later the Treasury produced a report that said government agencies could save $245 million through efficiencies. Seemed to me (slightly cynically!) that if we have $1 billion for AMI, why bother with all the pain of saving $245 million? Or put another way, let AMI fail and there’s a billion saved just like that, or maybe not.

Anyway I digress. Somehow in the midst of all of this the leadership of the government has managed to keep the majority of New Zealand in support. Some people comment that John Key appears genuine, mixes well and tells it as it is. And whatever the crisis him and Bill English keep telling us that this latest 1 or 5 billion will be allowed for in the budget. Seems like we accept that and on we go. I should also observe that those who don’t think John Key is so flash, have become sharply more critical of what they say is a facade.

What exercises my mind in all of this is whether leadership can be so good that we ignore reality, maybe because it’s too much to grapple with, or we think it’s not our problem.

I’m no economist, but $8.5 billion for earthquakes, $2 billion is it for South Canterbury Finance and up to $1 billion for AMI sounds like a lot of money for us. And must put the economy and our lifestyle at serious risk – even if for all the things that we won’t be able to do while resources are directed to Canterbury (all of it!).

Collision course or to the rescue?

Are we turning a blind eye? Do we think that the leadership knows what it’s doing so we keep on supporting? Do we think that a lot of it is out of the leadership’s control? Or what?

I was a teenager in the mid to late 1970s when the Muldoon government borrowed us into oblivion. Yes there were outside forces, such as the oil crisis, and UK joining the EU, but it all seemed to be well, not quite real. Then.

The discussions about political leadership seem to me to be way too superficial for intelligent people (I know some intelligent people who told me!).

We’re in a big financial crisis, living on an expectation that our political leadership, who appear to majority to be reasonable people, have some reality behind the photo opportunities.

Why do I keep thinking “I hope they know what they’re doing”. Is your organisation like this?


Friday leadership

As I write I have this warm feeling of a big week, quite a lot achieved and lots of positive signs that we’re moving in the right direction. Friday is a good day for wearing jeans (along with Monday, Tuesday, Wed…I digress!), to get that moving fast but relaxed feeling. Does that make sense?  Tim ordered a new game which was delivered to work here and he’s at home waiting for it. It’s a bit rainy, so a good night for a game I reckon. Word has come in via a text that the run tomorrow starts at 6.30am. Ouch. So whether I make it or not will in part depend on whether I can’t resist a visit to Tanuki’s Cave for Japanese, and suffer the consequences of having to have a lonely long run later.

Either way, it’s still Friday and the week’s work is done – in fact the cleaners are here so I should be getting the hell outa here real soon. Darren Hughes resigned as an MP a few hours ago due to sex-crime allegations after a night in town. I know he’s young and I probably sound like an old man: don’t these MPs get it? Going on a drinking session with students is hardly going to be positive. You don’t have to be boring but in leadership roles, you’re in a goldfish bowl, everyone is watching and telling less – except in this case, someone told the cops and now it’s ugly. Ouch. Maybe that 6.30am start won’t really hurt me, compared to this fiasco for Darren Hughes.

If you see a blurry army truck pointing at you maybe it's time to head home!

If you find me on a Friday night, I hope you find me much the same as you would while I’m running your workshop. Though I’ll try not to facilitate your gathering, promise!

I hope you don’t get a surprise. That’s about being authentic.

Friday leadership can really stuff you up if it’s all made up (or you drink too much I guess – then it’s all made up anyway).

Have a great weekend. My carpets are cleaned and the office is looking sparkling for Monday.


Desert leadership or deserted leadership?

I read yesterday that the US spends $3.5 million a day on defence spending. For Egypt. That seemed like an unusual thing to do and an unusually high amount. I guess you need a lot of money to buy defence gear. For another country a long way away.  Libya is being bombed now because the Libyan government has attacked an uprising, pitched as “killing its own people”. It’s probably true. It was also true in Afghanistan quite some years ago and it turned out the uprising we in the west were supporting was the Taliban. That all worked out pretty well.

On the other side of the world China is helping Japan through it’s earthquake-driven disaster. Yes, other countries are too, but China and Japan haven’t exactly seen eye to eye. China has a history a repressing its own citizens and the state legally kills more people than the rest of the world.

Is the world headed for another war in the desert?  I don’t see any UN Resolutions proposed to force China to stop killing people for fraud and whatever else they execute for. When the US can’t afford to buy its friends like Egypt, what then? I guess China will. Or will they? Maybe they do in Africa right now. If you’ve experienced Chinese culture, you’ll probably know that despite what I just said, revenge and bullying are less common values than you see in the southern states of the US, say.

We have complex and seemingly intelligent international bodies including the UN in place where insights and learnings could be applied for the likes of Libya. I can see that if a government is killing its citizens then urgent action might need to be taken. But there doesn’t seem to be any urgency in other parts of the world. Like Zimbabwe to use another example. Cause and effect thinking, oil, and our cry for democracy have spurred the West into action.

It seems to be part of a western-encouraged uprising to bring democracy to the middle-east. Is the UN sanctioned bombing of Libya a sign of international leadership? Or is it a few countries beating up another bully so democracy can rise?  And if it does will they be free? I’m pretty sure Egypt hasn’t been free. The people from their president and the president from America. Not at $3.5 million a day.

These guys don't need Libya's oil

I’m a big fan of democracy. I’m an even bigger fan of freedom. I used to think that one led to the other. I’m not so sure now.  Do you feel less free in China than you do in America?

Do you feel that the UN has shown leadership in supporting the uprising in Libya?  Is this leadership through a consensus? What of the countries like Russia, China and Germany that abstained from voting? Is there an uncomfortable feeling in that? Are they closing their eyes and not wanting to support, or not deal with, a terrorist? Or does it have a feeling of “well you do what you have to do, but we’re not sure”.

That doesn’t feel like leadership, democracy or freedom to me. The most powerful leaders in the world. And they use simple cause and effect, voting leadership, and looking away to deal with one of the most significant international issues in many years. We should expect more from them all, those political leaders.

As my friend Rex says, if we spent that money on electric car technology, it probably wouldn’t matter so much. I’m starting to think he’s right.

I don’t have the answer, but somewhere in the thinking that put China in Japan to help its neighbour without any ado, there might be a better way.


A military head of state

He or she might technically be just our head of state’s representative, but with a grandson’s wedding, a playboy son and other important affairs of state to worry about in England for our actual head of state, the Governor General is as good as we get.

Without doubt it has to be a leadership role, our head of state. There’s some ceremonies to facilitate, many with a feel-good factor, some to appoint cabinet ministers and patron of a number of charities. I’d like to see someone who inspires us as a nation to grow.

Outside of New Zealand I doubt many people would know who our Governor General is. Can you name the Governor General of  Australia? Or Canada? How about Fiji? Do they have one still?

Managing the Army and later the Defence Force is a big job and our next GG appears to have run operations pretty satisfactorily. When we saw him under pressure like the appointment of Stephen Wilce, he had it investigated thoroughly and  promptly assigned the blame to those officers who had stuffed up. Not a good look to have someone associated with the Defence with a fake CV, but it wasn’t his fault. Did the handling of it feel political to you? It did to me and that’s a little uncomfortable, for an apolitical appointee.

Leadership is all about context. A few signals, a strategic view given. What will it look like outside New Zealand to anyone that cares to ask: Soldier as head of state?

Not sure at all.

Underwhelmed. But winter’s coming. Makes me dream of a holiday in Fiji.


Tragic Leadership

It started out a sad day – Tim’s elderly cat was at the vet, and the prospects were not good. I could sense the grief in Tim at lunch.

A short time later, at 1pm the same feelings of despair hit me as they did in September when a friend who’s ill in hospital phoned me to say I better phone my parents as there’s been a serious earthquake. Only yesterday I had included my folks with the 1952 photograph of them in my last blog. I knew Mum was okay as she had texted me just prior with a text “bad stake, hope Tom and Dad are ok”, which didn’t make any sense. Did everyone have food poisoning I had wondered? Anyway my son Tom and Dad had been in a CD shop in Cashel Street prior to visiting Ballantynes when the quake struck. They emerged to a scene of destruction, dust and the CD store collapsed. Cold chill. Luckily they were able to walk home.

Many others have not been so fortunate and as I write they say 65 people have been killed with the prospect of many more. To say that this is a difficult is trite.

My thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones. And with those who are desperately worried about loved ones who are missing. I cannot pretend to imagine the anxiety and suffering.

That as a community we seem to know what to do when tragedy strikes, because we’ve had now three big tragedies in the last few months, is tragic itself. But we do and when you read messages, hear the shake in Hillary Barry’s voice on TV3, you feel we really are a community nation. Grief is very personal. This is of a scale that as Kiwis it feels personal for us all.

A dark day with many more to come. But somehow feel a stronger Kiwi with media, political and crisis leadership dealing compassionately and so quickly with such a tragedy. And proud of Tom for being such a great support to his grandparents. And a sad day for Tim who for the second time in a fortnight, saw an old and much loved pet die.

Two strong boys I’m proud of today. Let’s do what we can for Christchurch.



A simple concept, often used in troubling ways. I’ve just come back from the movie Fair Game, based on actual events which gave rise to the American invasion and war in Iraq. A simple phrase used by President George W Bush described as a fact that the Iraqis had purchased uranium from Niger. This was to support the proposition, now discredited, that the Iraqis were building a nuclear bomb.  Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador played by Sean Penn knew this to be a lie – not just something that wasn’t supported – but something that enquires had established didn’t happen. So what do to?

Amy Gallo in her ‘When you think the strategy is wrong’ lists three things to do before disagreeing:

  • Understand the big picture – use your networks to understand the political complexities and assumptions used
  • contextualise your concerns – what is it about me that gives me some concern? What am I feeling?
  • Ask others for input – look to your peers and others. Explain your concerns and get other’s perspectives

These events are tragic. Countless dead and I doubt the world is any safer now than it was 10 years ago. It seems trivial to say that getting as close to the truth as you can before starting a war, might be a good idea. And if you know that one has or is about to be started based on a lie, how far do you go? Especially if those you need to confront include some of the most powerful men on the planet.

Earlier this week as I was driving into my local cafe (well the carpark) a van being driven enthusiastically with some urgency drove out: Chinese Christian Truth Church  read the signage on the side.

In a leadership role dealing with the complexities of human behaviour, change and differing mental models makes dealing with the truth, well, not really the point.

Keeping your "truth" speeches in the right place

How a team is put together, performs, strategises, implements, deals with adversity are not simple right-wrong propositions. But if there is a truth: something indisputable, the results, the findings, especially if it’s simply communicated, it can be really important for leaders to express it. And that might mean expressing both up and down something quite unpalatable.

I feel a twinge of fundamentalism when I hear someone express their views as the truth. Occasionally it has a more Monty Pythonesque feel about it, like the van, but we need to take some care. Honest we must be, but pushing forward that your honesty is in fact the truth should be saved for mission critical moments. 

Strange thought really: be honest, but spare the truth talks. Like Joe Wilson did, when it mattered. John Lennon’s Imagine played soothingly on the drive home. Beautiful song. Now that is the truth!

Say it for Valentines Day leader

Two news items came out in the last couple of days concerning religion. One was about the leaders of one religion saying it was against the religion and it was immoral for unmarried people to celebrate Valentines Day as terrible things (my words!) might happen, like kissing and sex. Then two religions are accused of marrying off 13 year-old-girls. Apparently, if it’s within the confines of a religion then it can be moral, if it’s like, not.

Of course religion has no right to own morals any more than I have and one should never be confused with the other. Otherwise, we end up doing all sorts of things from the downright stupid (like not allowing young people to court) to forcing children to marry. Religion might agree with some of my morals, like not stealing, not killing and not perjuring myself. Thankfully in this beautiful country (I’ve just had a late evening walk on Tamaki Drive from St Heliers to Kohimarama which puts the phrase beautiful country in my mind!), most of us realise the difference between morals and man-made rules.

When John Key was asked today at the Big Gay Out if he supported civil unions he refused to answer. It is reported that he voted against the legislation when it was introduced into Parliament. I guess it was a conscience vote, whatever that means. I wonder why he wouldn’t say whether or not he supported it. To at least some of the people there, it is probably important to know what his view is, especially as he had previously voted against it. And he’s the leader of our great country.

If you want to enter into a contract with another person of your own free will, go for it. It’s none of my business and if you don’t kill or steal while you’re doing it, I wish you luck. If you’re a young person and you want to express your love for another person on Valentines Day, go for it. Do the same if you’re older, whether you’re in a contract or not. None of this is my concern. So should we be concerned of a leader who thinks he or she can tell you whether or not you can even do any of these things?

Yes, because, if the answer is no you can’t do it, then we are entitled to ask: Why? A leader, especially a political one, should empower and enable us to live happy and authentic lives. Anything else is a slippery slope to places you don’t want to go. If the answer is no on moral grounds, that’s even more disturbing. What moral? Where could such a thing have come from?

But this is a leadership blog! And I reckon that there is an important leadership question in all of this: say it when it’s important to your followers. Agree with you or not, you’ll be seen as authentic. And if you really don’t want to say, you might like to ask yourself, why not?

Whatever the origins of Valentine, if it’s for you and gives you and your loved one happiness, enjoy. Don’t let anyone stop you. It’s your right to be happy.