Monday, 5 December 2011

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia: a view of eighteen months of a female PM

It is not quite eighteen months since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister of Australia.  It has taken us a while to get to the place where a female holds the top elected office in Australia but we are still ahead of some not least of which is the USA.

Gillard has taken deep and critical cuts.  The amount of poison that has found its way to pens is almost beyond belief.  One wonders how she could have received more vitriol if she had sold state secrets to Osama bin Laden.  Even an elderly and powerful male from the Australian Workers Union - who is the master of the three-strand-comb-over - criticised her hair!

What do we expect of our political leaders - or even our business leaders for that matter?  Do we really expect nice, ever polite and considerate wallflowers?  If we do, then we are clearly ignorant of how our political system - and any political system, for that matter - works.  Political and corporate leadership requires great determination and manoeuvrability to forge ahead, drive policy, bring success and avoid pitfalls and pratfalls.

For millenia men have tried to prove that women are not up to pinnacle leadership positions.  Few men, it seems to me, enjoy taking orders or experiencing the leadership of a woman if they can avoid it.  This brings out the worst in them at times.  In addition, I always think there is something chemical afoot in human interaction which means that certain people appear to attract enmity and ill wishes like magnets attract iron.

One thing that seals all leadership is this: the ability to deliver the goods.  A general who continually loses battles and has excessive troop losses; a CEO or Chairman of the Board who loses business and profits over successive years; and a lead politician who cannot underwrite electoral success for supporters all go the way of leaves in autumn.

Gillard has to be seen in the context of male leaders who have gone before her.  Does she act any differently from them?  Is there any sign that, as a woman, she brings improved ways of dealing with things?  I'm sure we would hope, irrespective of gender, that each leader brings positive qualities to the position and can override or leave behind the negative qualities of previous leaders.  I'm sure we would hope that the positive qualities brought to a position are human qualities, not gender-based qualities.  These are the standards we need to apply to all leadership irrespective of gender.  We must also remember that, generally speaking, political leaders are of their time, their period in history.  The ethos of the culture represented and the decisions to be made are always different for different periods.  Human culture and history moves on, changes, progresses and recedes.

Human beings respond to others, as a generality, in two ways: the first is an immediate response or reaction and the second is a response built up over time as more of the personality of the other comes into view.

This is clearly the case with Julia Gillard.  Her final steps to the Prime Ministerial role left the electorate breathless with the pace of the despatch of Kevin Rudd.  It has taken quite a while for the Australian population to absorb the impact of her rise to leadership after those dramatic events.  It has taken quite a while for the Australian population to gather together a more rounded view of Gillard's character and method of operation.  

And here is a key to how she carries out her duties.  Method seems to be at the heart of the matter.  There is no hint of a work-aholic at the helm.  She gives the appearance of someone who gives a lot of consideration over time to implementing iconic policies. Her education policies seem to bear this out.  She is adaptive.  Here is a person who came to her position in politics through the left wing of the Australian Labor Party but who has been installed as Prime Minister by the Australian Workers Union, an historic and significant right wing trade union.  Looking back in the light of reports of this document, it would appear that she can take on board suggestions and constructive criticism.  After nearly eighteen months as Prime Minister, she is clearly learning how to stamp her authority  and personal dignity on the office through international conferences and meetings and, not least, through the National Conference of Australian Labor Party held this weekend just past.  

Personally, her hair - which long was problematic - has come to a stability of style which suits her and seems appropriate to the office.  Her grooming and tailoring has improved significantly - as all women would wish for themselves in such circumstances.  In the past, there has been a tendency to wooden-ness. However, over time people are getting more insight into her personality. I think the 'crap' comment at the National Press Club might have been the beginning of this. It was an apparently casual comment which hit its target with a smile and which was generally well received.  I think this might have showed Gillard that she could let some of this side of her personality shine through with success.  

Like any person in such a position, we would expect to grow and mature in the position.  We would expect to learn from experience.  This, eighteen months on, seems to be true of Julia Gillard.  She has taken this position seriously.  With humility?  That I can't say.  With respect? Most certainly.  She has faced the situation that has come her way squarely.  It has taken a while and many hard knocks.  It seems now, as 2011 closes in and a new year approaches, that the Prime Ministerial capacity of Julia Gillard has extended. She has become gradually transformed in and by the position.  She does indeed manage grace under extremes of pressure - and I concur with this article.  This is about the first balanced, reasoned and reasonable article which conveys in words an authentic picture of Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia.

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