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Brexit, Hanson, Trump -- What Have We Done?

16/11/2016 10:05 AM AEDT | Updated 16/11/2016 10:33 AM AEDT
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As a seven-year-old I wanted to be the first female Prime Minister. By the time I was 12 I had shifted my focus to waiting till Australia became a republic as I'd rather be the President. You could say I'm ambitious, and you'd be right.

As an ambitious woman it would be an understatement to say that I am disappointed with Hillary Clinton's loss. To be honest I feel a sense of grief and loss. That might sound dramatic, but it's true.

Structural sexism has won. It's a sad day that demonstrates in the strongest of terms how far we have to go when it comes to equal rights and basic respect for women. My husband put it powerfully when he said: "The electorate will choose an atrocious man over a competent woman. I am disgusted by my culture."

For months now I have been talking about the connections between Brexit, Trump and Hanson. The results of this election are just the latest evidence of how deeply a massive proportion of the population feels disaffected and is seeking out something 'different'.

So, what do Brexit, Trump and Hanson have in common? They want us to believe that the world is black and white, clean-cut, good and evil... They are the expression of widely held and deeply felt discontent. A rise of nationalism and middle class blowback seems to be opening up significant cracks in the façade of neoliberalism. The neoliberal agenda has reduced things to dog-eat-dog world and trickle-down economics.

The patterns emerging around the styles of leadership that people are drawn to also make another thing clear to me: leadership and the theory behind it are constantly evolving.

I have studied Bauman's notion of liquid modernity. The theory sets up the modern globalised world as one of fluidity, constantly moving and changing. Yet, within this ever-changing world exist relatively stable nation states -- sort of the yin and yang of political theory. What's interesting is that the behaviours and conditions we once articulated as being present in 'stable nation states' seem to have shifted.

I once argued that stable democracies were generally content with transactional leaders or competent managers. I argued that the stability of these societies create a situation in which people become comfortable and focus on maintaining the status quo, rather than desiring charismatic leaders who inspire change and unrest in the pursuit of what is ultimately an uncertain future. I thought, while charismatic leadership could be a force in fragile or emerging societies, in stable, functioning societies there seems to be less and less room for charisma. Needless to say I've now changed my mind.

So, what does this mean for the next wave of leadership in politics and business?


One of my lecturers used to say: "If you don't have a stomach for disequilibrium you can't lead in the 21st century." That statement has stayed with me and continues to prove itself to be more and more accurate as time goes on.

When you're faced with indeterminacy you cannot make analytically perfect decisions because you can never have all the facts in front of you. But, when do we ever have all the facts? We are left with having to fill in the gaps, having to interpret and having to make judgement calls. We can do that in a way that has ethical and relational integrity by having a well-formed foundation based on our intent and values.

This means two things: one, you want to hope like hell that you trust and believe in the intent and values of your leaders; and two, your leaders need to have the courage to step into the unknown, make decisions and act in the best interests of something greater than themselves. Now, that's the type of leadership I could get behind.

I want to be inspired. I want to see someone with guts who will make the tough decisions with longer-term outcomes in mind. I don't respect the spineless, spotlight-seeking, empty words of those who only focus on winning the next election. Sadly, inspiration, conviction and long-term vision are in short supply in political circles right at the time when we need them most.

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