During the 2013 election campaign, former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke was heavily criticised for his statement that The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP could not step up to lead the Labor party due to her role as mum to a three year old. The comments went viral with action groups and other advocates swiftly stepping in to beat the drum on the issue of gender diversity and the status of female representation (or rather under representation) in Australian Parliament and the constant double standards applied to women in the Australian workplace.
The conversation shone a spotlight on the ongoing pervasiveness of glass ceilings (and walls), sticky floors and the unequal treatment of women in the Australian workplace. And why would the issue not peak interest and attention? Despite our advancements, the structural, attitudinal and behavioural inequalities in Australia remain entrenched.
While I don’t disagree with the lamentations of the critics at the time, and or the conversation that roars on, I do believe an important dimension of the matter was ignored, at the expense of a lesson in good leadership.
As truth would have it, Bob Hawke strongly encouraged Tanya to ‘step-up’ and take the leadership role. It was Tanya who made an active choice not to, not for a lack of belief in her ability to do so, but rather because at that moment ‘stepping-up’ was not the choice she wished to make. She owned that choice and was comfortable in doing so.
As we are routinely reminded, good decision-making is one of the most essential skills that a leader must possess. However in a world of increasing complexity and ambiguity finding clarity of judgment amongst the many and often competing priorities and conflicting considerations is becoming ever more problematic and difficult.
Tanya’s act not to step-up was evidently done so with clear rationale and premises for doing so. In the face of much contention, and in an environment where everyone ‘has an opinion’, it was clear she was able to block out the periphery and inconsequential to make a decision with unwavering conviction. When one meets Tanya Plibersek, it is immediately obvious that there is a certain enviable empowerment by owning your decisions – with such coming from a clear belief in the premises that underpin them.
The world is increasingly complex with right or wrong being increasingly coloured by shades of grey. To make a decision takes strength, and conviction, and as a leader, decisions will need to be made day-to-day. Having the skills to critically analyse and engage in rational decision marking will be critical for leaders to arrive at conclusions, and ones they can comfortably own.