There is a clear contradiction between two of management's current objectives: leadership and being a team player.
The contradiction is not necessary. Any even half-competent dictator has everyone on his team playing for him, or (to use current phraseology) singing from the same song-sheet.
On the other hand, if you listen to what everyone else has to say and then try to reach a compromise, you will end up with a potpourri of opinion, obfuscation and mutually exclusive suggestions.
The question is: Is it possible to reconcile these, on the surface, totally incompatible approaches?
Let us first consider the master. Peter Beattie was able at the same time - indeed, often in the same sentence - to admit that he was totally wrong, but had consulted his colleagues, and now was moving ahead, or wherever it was he was moving. He deflected criticism by not denying anything for which he could personally be held responsible. Nor did he directly blame any problems on others, unless they resigned. It helped, obviously, that he had a winning smile and a very relaxed way with the truth. And he always got his own way. He even – this is very unusual for ambitious politicians – managed to leave at a time of his choosing.
Was this effective leadership or something a little less exalted? As for team playing, it was always on his terms.
Now, for a contrast, let us take Kevin Rudd. No one could deny he wanted to, and did, lead the ALP into government. And he did so on a wave of (in the best sense) populist enthusiasm. Once in office, however, he alienated almost everyone, including his own supporters, by trying to micromanage everything and impose his own peculiar working habits, not only on those who worked with him directly, but also the whole of the senior public service. It did not turn out well. There was no winning smile, except for the cameras. And there was no team playing.
The other good example, of course, is Bob Hawke. The master of consensus, he would spit a dummy if he didn't get his way. The best example is his undermining of Treasurer Paul Keating at the 1985 tax summit over a goods and services tax. In a sense, though, he was a team player, in that the reason he undermined Keating was that he wanted to keep in with his union mates. So here was a team player masquerading at being a leader.
The Liberal side has been just as bad. Indeed, in some respects it has been even worse, in that the major conflicts about leadership have been largely about how to keep the team playing under control. Whenever there has been a strong Liberal leader – Kennett and Howard in recent years – there has been a streak, if not more, of authoritarianism. They reached their positions in spite of their colleagues and, at least in the case of Kennett, made sure their advisers had nothing to do with the party machine. This is instructive.
So what does the political dimension, including teamwork, tell us about leadership in general? Probably nothing.
The leader or captain of a sports team has a definite role to play, assigning people here or there, taking the blame for anything that goes wrong, and missing out on all the enjoyment. The leader of a children's group, say, is basically making sure that no one gets hurt. And the leader of a bikie gang will be held responsible for whatever damage his (it's always a male) subordinates cause.
So is it possible to make a sustainable generalisation or two? Perhaps.
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