There has been a lot of talk about Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in recent weeks, but little about what political leadership means in operational terms. Brendan Nelson produced a notable list in an article he penned on August 10 in the SMH: The priorities are party, people and platform with an inspiring vision. He said “At times like this assertions are made that it is not about leadership and the party should drop its ‘messiah complex’. Nonsense. Leadership is everything, whether of a political party, company or school. Vision, inspiration, character, judgment, temperament, humility, intellect and courage are just some of the qualities that will define our party's success.” [more]
So how does Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership rate on Nelson’s criteria: vision, inspiration, character, judgment, temperament, humility, intellect and courage? Make your own ratings using any scale you wish.
We know Turnbull has a vision to be PM and to lead the Coalition to victory at the next election, but let’s check his vision for Australia. I cannot recall reading or hearing a substantial statement from him recently, but from time to time he has embraced the principles of individual freedom, personal initiative, ‘having a go’, entrepreneurship, free markets and small government. He has consistently maintained that ‘small business is the engine-room of our economy’ and that government should direct its efforts towards supporting small business and making it easier to function. Early in his parliamentary life he made some suggestions about options for the tax system, much to Peter Costello’s annoyance, and he made statements about climate change and water when he was Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in the Howard Government.
But since becoming Opposition Leader what has he told us about the direction in which our nation should head, where it should be in the decades ahead, economically, geopolitically, regionally, militarily, diplomatically, culturally and ideologically? What future does he see for manufacturing, small business, resources, agriculture, transport, infrastructure and tourism? What is his vision for the tax and transfer system, the health care system, federal-state relations, the federation, national security, climate change amelioration, water security, population management, and multiculturalism? Can any reader refer to a comprehensive statement that encompasses these matters?
Give Turnbull a score on his political vision.
Evidence of Turnbull’s capacity to inspire is fragmentary. When he first entered the political domain he made a strong impression on many people who soon saw him as a future leader and PM. He looked impressive, spoke well, sounded convincing, argued soundly and seemed destined for greatness. His many achievements in journalism, law, business and banking went before him. Recently his capacity to inspire seems to have deserted him. His party is fractured, many of his colleagues are doing as they please and sometimes contradict him, and his aura of confidence has been diminished by the OzCar affair. He tends to be circumlocutory and testy during interviews and has difficulty getting his points across. Inspirational individuals have the capacity to engage people, convince them, imbue them with enthusiasm and lead them effortlessly. Even as he tries to inspire, as he’s now attempting with his Frontier Economics plan for an ETS, he is not convincing. Recent events may have pressed many to tune out; if the people are not listening, inspiring them is impossible.
What is your score for inspiration?
Character is an attribute that although difficult to define, we all understand. It has been discussed lately in regard to Turnbull’s involvement in the OzCar affair. ‘Character’ encompasses such attributes as moral or ethical quality, honesty, courage, integrity, keeping promises, loyalty, being reputable, trustworthiness, respect for others, sense of responsibility, self-restraint, justice and fairness, care and concern, civic virtue and citizenship, and always doing ones best.
The Government is mounting a sustained attack on Turnbull’s character in the wake of the OzCar affair, questioning his behaviour in collaborating clandestinely with Godwin Grech to bring down the PM and Treasurer on grounds of corruption and lying to parliament. More about this is to be revealed. Does a person of fine character do what Turnbull has done?
What is Turnbull’s character score?
This is the area of Turnbull’s makeup that is most questioned contemporaneously. We all know what judgement is; as good a definition as any is ‘the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions’. That Turnbull accepted the Godwin Grech email without exercising due diligence and went along with Grech’s suggestions about how to bring down the PM and Treasurer, has raised serious questions about his political judgement.
Rate his judgement.
‘Temperament’ in a psychological sense has four categories. The first is the extrovert who is never at a loss for words, confident but often lacking discipline. The second is the decisive, rational, forceful, strong-willed, determined and independent person who is self-opinionated, practical and makes sound, quick decisions, is not afraid of obstacles and tends to drive right through or over problems, but does not display compassion easily.
The third is the conscientious person who tends to be introverted, is analytical and perfectionist, often moody and depressed, pessimistic, can be legalistic and rigid, and intolerant and impatient with those who do not see things his way. The fourth category is the idealist - an 'easy going', calm and steady person who is not easily disturbed, makes an good teacher, counsellor and administrator, is very dependable and organized but may lack motivation, drive and ambition.
Turnbull fits the second category best, but with some characteristics of the first. What is the most suitable temperament for political leadership?
Score him on the suitability of his temperament for leadership.
We all know what this means, but a good definition is the quality of being courteously respectful of others, willing to acknowledge mistakes and able to apologize. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, and vanity.
Rate him on his humility.
Intellect or intelligence needs no elaboration except to say that it is not a uniform characteristic. Political intelligence, nous, wisdom is a trait separate from other forms of intelligence.
Score him on his intellect in a political sense.
Courage is equated with bravery, strength of will, intrepidity and fortitude, and is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement.
How do you rate Turnbull’s courage in a political sense?
You may have other attributes on which you would rate a political leader, but for this exercise let’s use Nelson’s to rate Turnbull’s aptitude to lead the Opposition. Please share your assessment with us all.
As he wrote out his list, I wonder how Brendan Nelson rated him?
I’m sure you can guess what my assessment is.