Leadership lessons Turnbull-style

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When Malcolm Turnbull collected the prime ministership from a defeated Tony Abbott on 14 September, he wore a sharp set of threads and a killer smile for the occasion. He looked and acted the part of a leader.

He’s added to the spectacle that is Australia’s merry-go-round of political leadership, but it’s taken mere moments for the nation to forgive him. Because who can stay mad at the charming gent who’s swanning around Government House with his adorable grandson, Jack, on his hip just hours after that awkward leadership spill?

Professor Jon Billsberry, Chair in Management at Deakin University’s Faculty of Business and Law, says good leadership is not simply about skills or ability, but about public perception of that person. He argues that the Liberals know they’re replicating the great mistake of the Labor Party. However, Mr Turnbull has the ability to repair opinion polls and buff out his predecessor’s remnants. ‘You have to be doing things that are typical of leadership in your environment. Mr Turnbull exudes leadership. He has gravitas,’ Prof. Billsberry explains.

'You have to be doing things that are typical of leadership in your environment. Mr Turnbull exudes leadership. He has gravitas.'

Professor Jon Billsberry,
Deakin University

Of course, simply looking like a leader isn’t enough. You need a bit of nous, too. Dr Athena Vongalis-Macrow, senior lecturer in Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education, says another reason Mr Turnbull is able to wield influence with ease is that he ‘has friends on both sides of politics and presents an energetic vision for Australia.’ Dr Vongalis-Macrow suggests his modernist agenda and ability to work the media is reminiscent of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s style. ‘Mr Blair understood how leadership is as much about public expectations as retaining the leadership,’ she says.

There’s little doubt adding more women to the Cabinet and refraining from consuming whole onions will give Mr Turnbull a shot at holding onto his position for a while. Although Dr Vongalis-Macrow acknowledges that he is yet to be truly tested. ‘His charisma did not win the republican debate years ago and did not win him leadership before Tony Abbott,’ she adds.

This is a reminder that a smart suit and a cute grandson are not enough to hold our attention. Perception may have helped Mr Turnbull score the keys to The Lodge, but substance is what will keep him there.

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Professor Jon Billsberry
Professor Jon Billsberry

Chair in Management, Deakin Business School, Deakin University
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