I would say that just about everyone has heard of the strange outcome of the last federal election here in Australia.

Equally, I would say that most people understand the reason it was held! Ousting your leader virtually mid term is sure to destabilise any political party, and it appears that the voters may have agreed.

But, standing in line waiting to vote on Saturday, I became aware of a discontent that I had overlooked. There was a surprising attitude that the new leader’s actions were ‘not fair’.

Now I live in Queensland, and of course the ousted leader was a local politician, and I suppose you could fairly say that was also a factor in the attitude; but what may have been overlooked is the traditional sense of ‘fair play’ that Australians are justly proud of.

So while I was standing inline and engaging in conversation with others around me, I got a real sense that many of the voters were not seeing this election through the eyes of party policies but of party practices. And they felt that they were being asked to endorse the actions of a leader whose party’s policies they may have supported – but who they felt had acted without principle.

High on their list of grievances was the fact that Julia Gillard had loudly and publicly supported Kevin Rudd’s leadership only two days prior to the ‘bloodless coup’. To then move against him to overthrow him – was ‘not the done thing.’

As one enraged person said, ‘If the party felt they needed a new leader they should have chosen someone who hadn’t been so involved in the decision making process and who hadn’t so publicly denied an interest in becoming the party leader.’

He called the action ‘hypocritical’ – and such a judgement may have been more universally held by many Australian voters than first thought. It certainly would explain why they turned on the Labor Party, but couldn’t completely condone the Opposition.

Regardless of the justification that can be made for the practicalities of the action, there is a distaste for what was done which has had a profound effect on the population. Perhaps it is a lesson for all leaders to remember; that we are judged not so much by what we actually do, but by what we are perceived to have done.

Julia Gillard’s actions may have been done with the very best of intentions; but what the people saw was someone who had very publicly turned on another who they had previously praised and supported – and the sight was distasteful to them.

When I first joined the military, I had a dear old aunt who had been one of the first women drivers in the ATS back in 1917 – and she gave me this good advice “It is not enough to be innocent of wrong doing – it is essential that you are seen to be innocent.”

Knowing the purity of our actions is not enough if they can be misconstrued.

What can also be overlooked is that the actions of the leader can permeate the organisation, and member’s actions can also be judged in the light of the leader’s actions.

We need to stress that personal integrity is as important as executive skill in business dealings….Setting an example from the top has a ripple effect throughout a business school or a corporation.- Professor Thomas Dunfee

And I saw that happening in fact. In my locality there was a very young candidate; the supporters of the sitting government member had gone around placing ‘L’ plates strategically close to his election posters. And what would have probably been accepted as merely ‘robust electioneering’ was now viewed in a different light.

‘What can you expect’ was a common comment, and people saw it an example of ‘government dirty tricks’, And it may have had a bearing on the outcome as the young candidate was elected.

Ethical Leadership should never give way to expediency; but expediency can be a powerful siren song to justify an action which could be considered unethical. And the more powerful the leader, the more likely it is that expediency will be urged to condone actions we know are morally wrong.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” — Abraham Lincoln

Whatever the outcome of the present situation, Ms Gillard will have found herself with an albatross around her neck. Whatever she does, whatever she claims there will always be that faint taint of unethical behaviour to dog her steps.

For those in positions of leadership, this has been a visual lesson in ethics. Whatever the justification, the leader’s actions have been judged and judged badly. We should watch and learn.

Michele @ Trischel

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