What makes a good leader?
Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 20:30

Tony Abbott is the latest in a line of Australian Prime Ministers who have struggled to maintain leadership of their party.

Abbott may have survived a leadership spill but as the public continues to scrutinise each "captain's call", and politicians from both sides express a lack of confidence in Abbott's leadership, Insight asks – what makes a great leader?

A panel of leaders from different fields sits down with host Jenny Brockie to discuss what it takes to be successful in the top job.

They explore how much ambition matters, the value of personal loyalty, when to listen to or ignore advice, and whether leading is innate or can be learned.

The leaders will also challenge the wisdom of Australia's "tall poppy syndrome" and reveal just how lonely it can be at the top.

Presenter: Jenny Brockie 

Producer: Elise Potaka  

Associate Producer: Sarah Allely 

Associate Producer: Anna Watanabe

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, or posting on our Facebook page.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Welcome, everybody. Peter Leahy, you have run the Army. Why do you think Australian prime ministers can't hang onto their jobs? What do you think is the heart of what is going on wrong?

PETER LEAHY, FORMER CHIEF OF ARMY: There is probably a deep sense of cynicism and people are informing themselves in so many different ways and people are picking and choosing and they are not able to discern that big image, that big picture - this is where we are going - which is the role of a leader.

JENNY BROCKIE: It is a recent phenomenon. Why is it happening?

PETER LEAHY: Maybe there is too much information out there. I don't want to blame the media for this.


JENNY BROCKIE: We are only a minute in!

PETER LEAHY: But where do you get your information from? And if you don't like that, go somewhere else, cause in some ways, do we want to be led anymore? We want to be able to do our own thing.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK. What do you think, though, when you see the behaviours in Canberra? What do you think of what the politicians themselves are doing?

PETER LEAHY: As someone who lives in Canberra, it is not my fault. I feel embarrassed, I feel embarrassed for them as individuals and I feel embarrassed for Australia because, I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago and there was one of these paralysis of leadership or whatever was going on - I am not sure where it was - they said, "What are you blokes up to? What is going on there?" If that is the impression that people overseas have of us, I think that is terrible.

CHRIS EVANS, FORMER FEDERAL MINISTER: Peter, they also shut down government for three months in America. It is not just an Australian problem.

PETER LEAHY: You are right, Chris.

CHRIS EVANS: They couldn't get an agreement between the President and Congress to allow government to function.

PETER LEAHY: And we certainly say that about them, but I am just observing they said that to us and I think we can do better.

JENNY BROCKIE: And they are not chopping and changing presidents all the time. They have got a different system, but if you look at Canada, for example, which has a similar system to us or New Zealand or even the UK, you don't see sitting prime ministers getting turfed out all the time, do you?

CHRIS EVANS: No, that is true. I think there is more instability in Australia certainly currently, but I think that has been developing over a few years and I think it is broader than just the politicians. I agree with Peter, the political culture in Canberra has got terrible. The values that people are representing are, I think, appalling. The leaking, the backgrounding, the failure to allow leadership…

JENNY BROCKIE: But why, Chris? Why are those things happening more than they were happening before?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, I think it is partly the change in society and partly the change in the culture inside the Parliament. But, if you think about it, everything is faster paced. We don't concentrate on an issue for too long, as Peter was saying and people in the public eye come under enormous pressure to have answers quickly, so the capacity to develop decisions, to consult, et cetera, is almost impossible now. You have to have an answer by the morning for the morning radio and TVs, and quite frankly, you are forced to rule out options because it starts a whole scare campaign running if you don't rule out options. The whole decision making process is impacted by the speed and I think we get worse government as a result. But also I think we are reflecting some of the other pressures in society and I think the panel today will represent - anyone in the public eye is  now is under those sort of pressures. It is not just politics. If you go to the business leaders, sports administrators, et cetera, they are turning over at a pretty rapid rate as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: Not quite as fast.

PETER LEAHY: Everyone is looking at you Ange.

ANGE POSTECOGLOU, SOCCEROOS COACH: Everyone is looking at me!

CLARE MARTIN: The kind of constant polling saying that the Prime Minister is here and the opposition here. It makes people edgy. It makes members of Parliament edgy. I think we have seen since '07 that kind of edginess saying we have got to get rid of this Prime Minister, instead of kind of saying, "What are the issues we need to address?"

ANGE POSTECOGLOU: And I think it comes from probably your initial question is that, why aren't they keeping their job? And they are focusing on keeping their job rather than doing their job. And once I think, as a leader your primary task becomes self-preservation, you are losing sight of why you are there. Because of the immediacy of - you talk about polls, in my game, you would wait until the next day's paper to get ripped apart, but now with Twitter and social media it is happening during the game. So if you react to that, the people then become a little bit disillusioned and there is cynicism then as to why you're making decisions. Are you making decisions because you want to get re-elected or are you making decisions because you think that is the right thing to do?

JENNY BROCKIE: But leaders have always had to take tough decisions and try and bring people with them. I mean, why do you think that is not happening?

CHRIS EVANS: There are a couple of underlying factors in politics. One of those is that the affiliation of the parties is much weaker, so it is a constant popularity contest. People don't believe they voted for the Liberal Party or the Labor Party - they voted for Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. So the focus is on the personality, so that stability of allegiance to a party is no longer quite there. So the polling of the individual leader is more and more important because you will rise or fall, based on how they are going and not necessarily how the government is going or whether you are implementing your policies.

JENNY BROCKIE: I should just point out, quickly to everybody, you might be wondering why there are not any Liberals here. We tried lots of them, but they just were not prepared to talk just about leadership at the moment.

PETER LEAHY: Jenny, I think there is another element of this and to many people these days I think being a politician is more about having a job than it is about wanting to do something broadly for the community, of having that broader aspect of thinking where should Australia be in the next ten or fifteen years? And I see in Canberra in the staffers who are manoeuvring to get jobs and those other things. So we don't have politicians coming from the broader community with a range of experiences who've taken a few knocks and probably lost a bit here and lost a bit there, they've built themselves up again and they've got a sense of confidence. I think part of the problem we're seeing is we're seeing professional politicians, rather than the broader community being represented. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think that is a point? You know, the Rudd, Gillard, Rudd situation as well, you know, was there a sense that people were too focused on just staying in the job? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Well we've never had anyone give up the prime ministership willingly. It was true of Howard. He should have gone, he didn't. It was true of Hawke. He had to be dragged out – people wanting to hang on to the top job is not news.

JENNY BROCKIE: But they did hang on, they did hang on for four terms and that is the difference.

 CHRIS EVANS:    Yes, but they had near death experiences and one could argue that it would have been better if Hawke had stepped down for Keating and that Howard hadn't gone to the last election where he even lost his seat. So I think, I don't think we ought to pretend that this is a new phenomenon.

JENNY BROCKIE:   It's happening in the states too, in the territories, isn't it Clare?  I mean we had the coup that, you know the coup that wasn't at midnight in the Northern Territory. You know, is it a contagion?

CLARE MARTIN: I think in the Northern Territory over the last year and a half it's been a bit of a disease but it really, I think when you look at what's happening it is about egos and it's not about a party saying well, what are the issues we have to tackle? It's really about the personalities involved and I mean not surprisingly the Northern Territory population is very unimpressed. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ange, you've been coaching for about twenty years.

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Yeah, pretty close, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you think the players expect from you as a coach and a leader? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Look, I think from my perspective, and I learned the lesson when I was still a player was that you want the coach to be the one who makes the decision and take responsibility for them. I made it sort of my mantra that, you know, the worst thing I can do is make no decision at all.  Even a bad decision is recoverable if you're making it for the right reasons but there needs to be, you need to be very decisive and again my generation of, when I was playing, you literally got told what to do and you did it. It's a very different world today. I can't tell a young man to do something and not expect him to come back with why should I do it? And I need to be pretty compelling in whatever narrative I give him to get him to do what needs to be done and even my language because talking to today's generation, I could have a dressing room of players who are aged from 35 to 18. The message can get lost if I don't adjust my language and deal with them individually. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you know when you're losing them? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Oh, absolutely, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you tell? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Oh, look, most of the time at about the three minute mark when I'm talking. I'll start, I mean you're talking about, it's very hard to capture their attention.  I mean Chris talked about mobile phones, I mean just to get them to put down their mobile phones for five minutes, try and do it at home with a teenager, it's  torture. So I know I've only got them for a short time and after a while if you feel the agitation in the room of people starting to twitch and turn you kind of think well, you know, a bit like this answer now, it's about time to wind up and send them out there.  And you have to do it because you know, you'll only get a precious amount of time to relay that message. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Raelene, what about you, I mean you're CEO of the Bulldogs, the rugby league team in Sydney, do you have a clear sense of the way you approach leading that group? 

RAELENE CASTLE, CANTERBURY BULLDOGS CEO:  Oh, I think I was very fortunate when I arrived at the Bulldogs because it was in a really good space so I had the luxury of being able to build the two things that I think are most important and that is trust and respect. So when you go into a situation that's a leadership role where everything's on an even keel, you can build those relationships, you can build that trust and earn that respect by the decisions you make, the way you go about it. It's much more difficult if you go into a crisis situation.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why do you think you were chosen as CEO? 

RAELENE CASTLE: Well the Bulldogs went through a very thorough process, they made this very public, they went, had about 7,000 applications I think to get down to 100, to get down to four or five to interview, and when they got down to their two they blind tested the two of them to make sure that they had the candidate they believed, you know, had the best skills to do the job and that turned out to be me.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Chris, why do you think you were chosen as government leader in the Senate? 

CHRIS EVANS:    You should have even the other candidates? Well, that's for others to judge but, you know, I think…

JENNY BROCKIE:  No, but did you think of yourself as a leader or not?  I've been you've been a Minister, a senior Minister, you were leader, I mean leading the government in the Senate was a bit of a tricky job? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Yes, I think I mean you've got to have the confidence of those who elect you which is the rest of the caucus and in the end was never, never had to face an election, I was always elected unopposed so …. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you think of yourself as the leader? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Well certainly not when you started.  I mean I didn't - I wasn't one of those who went into politics because I wanted to be Prime Minister. It's like most careers, you sort of get opportunities, you take them - you end up where you end up. I know some people have burning ambition, they work out at 12 what they want to be, I wasn't one of those.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Were you, did you all think of yourselves as leaders? 

PETER LEAHY:  Hell no. 


PETER LEAHY:  No, not at all. I joined the Army at 18 straight out of school and must admit I thought maybe I can make a major or lieutenant colonel, that would be pretty good, and then things just started to happen and I've said to people that have followed me along, if you get to colonel, just strap in and go for the ride and see what's going to happen because, and I agree entirely…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Not really reassuring about our Army in great hands, just strap in. 

PETER LEAHY:  But there's a lot of good people who are prepared to put in the time and the sacrifice.  But I agree with Chris. If you were showing overt ambition, I think there's something wrong with you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's interesting, why? Why do you think that? 

PETER LEAHY:  Well, I just think it's unhealthy because you're thinking more of yourself than the team or the organisation. I've got brothers and they used to say it must be easy in the Army, just tell people to do things and they'll do it. You know, give them an order. It's not like that, you've got to build a team and you've got to be personable and people have to trust you and respect you and want to follow you.  The days of the military martinet are well and truly gone. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But they know you're in charge, I mean there are rules, you know, things likes saluting you and rank all and those things.   Does that make it easier? 

CHRIS EVANS:   Defence doesn't work like that anymore, Peter's right about the leadership issue, but when I was questioning him in Senate estimates, Defence were,  yeah, I was very always very kind on him. 


CHRIS EVANS:  I hope I'm not bringing back too bad memories Peter, but I, my office was getting emails from Defence personnel to ask him this, people who disagreed to what he was saying or a decision that had been taken. So the Army doesn't operate the way it used to operate and Peter and the other leaders have to operate in a very different environment, wherein a Defence force personnel member would actually, you know, contact an opposition parliamentarian to try and add pressure or get information from the Chief of Army by giving evidence.

PETER LEAHY:  I used to run a web page and I think the chiefs used to do it and it was called "Ask the Chief". Any solder at any time could send me an email and ask me a question and I think leaders of all levels, and the military you can't just talk about one individual leader, there are leaders all over the place. But leaders at all levels have to be one, accountable but also really approachable. You've got to try and understand what's going on because it's not about you, it's about them, and I saw my job as giving them what they needed to do to do their job. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, so communication and all of those things? 

PETER LEAHY:  Absolutely important. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I want to go back to something you said though about if you're ambitious for leadership there's something wrong with you. If you want, if you want that job, what do the rest of you think about that idea? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Yeah, I mean I've always aspired to be in leadership positions from as long as I can remember.  Even playing I was always interested in what was going on beyond the field and you know, and I ended up being captain at the age of 22.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well didn't you first coach when you were 11, Ange? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Yeah, I think I just like telling people what to do be brutally honest but yeah, I mean at school, I went to a school where particularly my generation again, migrants growing up, soccer or football, whatever you want to call it, wasn't the most popular sport  and in my school it really was just a few immigrant kids that wanted to have a soccer team and we got given the music teacher as our coach and he liked to do his, you know, correct the homework while we were training and we just said that's not good enough and I sort of elected myself unopposed as the coach.

Now I don't think it's being overtly ambitious but certainly in sport you need to have that ambition to want to be better, to continually drive to improve yourself and, you know, certainly the environment I try to create is one of real continual improvement and people wanting to be better all the time.  And you know, maybe it's reflective of Australian society how we keep talking, maybe not so prevalent now but the tall poppy syndrome but we want to keep people on a level keel and as soon as somebody gets ahead of themselves, we kind of think well, let's bring them back down to earth a little bit and I've never really, and maybe because my code is an international code and I've seen how other cultures react to that. Sometimes we miss out maybe on great leadership because we want to bring people down a peg or two just to make sure that, you know, they don't get ahead of us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That kind of talking about bringing people with you and together, it's just missing in politics, isn't it, at the moment? And has been for some time, and has been more about people trying to hang onto the job, do you think Clare? 

CLARE MARTIN: I think, I mean the discussion has been that people are trying to hang onto their jobs and I think there is an insecurity in that and when you see what happened in Queensland few weeks ago you realise those jobs can be very insecure. I mean nobody thought that a one term government would lose and that happened.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Were you a born leader, were you running around sort of trying to organise people from the time you were 11? 

CLARE MARTIN: No, I wanted be to an ABC journalist - which I did. When I became leader of the Labour Party in the Northern Territory in 1999 we had been in opposition for 25 years. I was determined not to put my hand up for the position because I thought it was just so difficult. And it was so, it was so, we had lost election after election after election and who would want a job like that? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you think you couldn't do it or did you think it was a lousy job? 

CLARE MARTIN: Well I’ll tell you what turned me around. When I first became leader one of the things you had to do was go and meet your colleagues in Canberra, when I dutifully went, and most of my federal colleagues said to me:  ‘So you're the poor turkey who's got the job in the Northern Territory?  You're the one with the worst political job in Australia’ and something about that just tripped me up. You know, just said okay, I won't say the words I used to myself, but go back and do the very best you can and if you win a few seats at the next election well done. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And it sounds like what you said to yourself was a lot tougher than what you just said to us? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Was it, would you like to share what you said? 

CLARE MARTIN: What I said to myself?  I said ‘Well if that bunch of bastards are going to treat me like that, I'll show them.’ 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Interesting, so you were motivated by?

CLARE MARTIN: I was motivated by the kind of condescension, the sense that you guys up there are hopeless and the Labour Party will never win, and it just inspired me beyond what I thought I could do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Raelene, were you, do you think you were born with some kind of leadership thing in you, or do you think it's something you acquired over time? 

RAELENE CASTLE:  If my family were here they would probably tell you that the family joke is that I won't play unless I'm the captain so you know, probably from early ages that was a fairly good indication.  But I think both my parents represented New Zealand, they had, you know, leadership roles from very early on so it was something that was I think very much bred into me, a space that I always felt very comfortable getting appointed into those leadership roles.   So it was never something that I shied away from.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can you learn to be a leader or do you have to have some intrinsic qualities to start with? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  I mean I think you need to be comfortable in that space. I mean, ultimately the biggest thing about the leadership is just accountability, it stops with you and when that realisation comes, you kind of figure out pretty quickly whether you like that space you're in.  And that's where you kind of begin to understand about yourself I think and that's the biggest thing for me.  I think it's that self-awareness, the journey, as in most things in life, with experience you kind of figure out where it sits with you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What were the things you didn't expect once you had leadership roles? What the things that shocked you or surprised you about being in top jobs? 

PETER LEAHY:  For me it was, it's really hard and you have to understand that there's a great responsibility that comes with some of these jobs and in my case I can remember the first day I was the chair of the Army Board, I sat there and thought bloody hell, this is really big. We had soldiers on operations. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How many people in the Army? 

PETER LEAHY:  There's about 30,000 now and there's about 15,000 reserve, so there's a lot of people and we were involved in combat operations and I saw my job as to make sure  they had the training and the equipment and the leadership so they can get overseas, do their job well, do it safely and come home to us. So there's a real responsibility that comes with that. So there's a burden of leadership and I think that comes on everybody and people are looking at you. I found the attention of the media not only on me but more intently on what the soldiers were doing, and Chris would remember any number of occasions where of a morning we'd all wake up and I know there's going to be a telephone call from a Minister very soon because a soldier had done something wrong or some catastrophe had happened. So…

RAELENE CASTLE:  You should be in charge of a football team. 

CHRIS EVANS:  About 10,000 football teams. 

PETER LEAHY:  But then you've got to celebrate the larrikin nature. You don't want to constrain them and I'm sure that football teams would be the same.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you don't want the dysfunction and you don't want the bad headlines, right? 

PETER LEAHY: No, but I think you have to accept that it's going to turn up every now and again and then you have to deal with it.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But let's go back to the bloody hell moment, what do you do when you look at the situation that you're in and you just feel overwhelmed? I mean there must be times when…

CLARE MARTIN: Don't panic is the best, the first one, don't panic because you can't think properly. 

RAELENE CASTLE:  And don't show other people that you're panicking. 

CLARE MARTIN: Yes, so, you know, the Ange by the side of the field when the soccer's not going so well, the football's not going so well, that kind of internal control is really important because if you panic everyone around you panics.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about the rest of you, what were the things you didn't expect in leadership? 

RAELENE CASTLE:  I think when I first got appointed as Chief Executive of the Netball New Zealand people said to me it's lonely. And I didn't know what that meant and it's not till you get there you realise that you're dealing with some significant issues that you can't talk to your staff about because that's why you're the leader and you're paid to make, to come to an outcome or make a decision, you can't often talk to your board because you're trying to show leadership that you've got things under control. So the thing for me is having that very tight support network that you can go to and test ideas with.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Can that be a negative?  Like you know, if you're too close or if you're just shutting out too many other people, you're not letting enough in? 

PETER LEAHY:  If you choose wrongly it can be bad, but then that choice shouldn't last for long. No, I think it should always be a positive and what you've got to do is develop a group of people around you that know they can talk to you, and then you had to convince the people that you trusted that they could actually come and say hey boss, you got that one wrong.  Do you think you want to do this some different way? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Get back to lonely, does that strike a chord with the rest of you? 

PETER LEAHY:  Oh, yeah, yeah. 

CLARE MARTIN: And I think I was as surprised at you were Raelene about, you know,  the loneliness sometimes of making that decision, I mean you have that ultimate responsibility and I found that at times very lonely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But how can, how distorting can it be of your judgments having that power? 

CLARE MARTIN: You can make mistakes and I think the things in politics is you've got to own up when you make mistakes. 

RAELENE CASTLE:   Self-awareness in that is really important and I this that the combination, the loneliness is an element but it's about the self-awareness to recognise what's going on around you and that's what leadership is about. You can't go into yourself when you've got people around you and you can see they need you. They need you so it becomes selfless too, and often you become the last person that you actually take time for. 

PETER LEAHY:  Another thing that got to me was the ambiguity of it all. There were just so many different sources of information, you're getting advice from the media, you're getting advice from government, you're getting advice from friends, you're getting advice from soldiers and sailors and airmen and all over the place and somehow you've got to figure out which bit of information do I take and when?

JENNY BROCKIE:  How do you do that? 

PETER LEAHY:  Well I think you've got to have that long term vision, where are we going with this thing or where do we want to be?

JENNY BROCKIE:   Chris, you served under two Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, three Prime Ministers. 

CHRIS EVANS:    No, I got out before that, I could do it again. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's right, you did, you did, I'm sorry, you did indeed. Were either of them what you would regard as good leaders? 

CHRIS EVANS:  Oh, they both their strengths. I think it's getting harder and harder to lead and, as I say, I think there's the political culture has changed which is influencing politicians and their behaviours. I don't want to blame the media but the media cycle and the immediacy of everything, I mean when I started used to, people used to write you letters and you'd get three or four weeks to reply to them. Now if you haven't responded to a tweet in thirty seconds someone is complaining that our politicians aren't responsive, et cetera. So the whole pace of the life has changed.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But setting all of that aside, just looking at those two people as leaders, were either of them good leaders? 

CHRIS EVANS:   The reality is once you come under that sort of pressure, as they both did, it, it just, it's a cycle that you can't stop. I think Abbott's in that cycle now, is that it's like a death roll and anything, there's nothing you can do to stop it and every move almost makes it worse and…

JENNY BROCKIE:   But if you're a good leader shouldn't you be able to actually lead your way out of a crisis?  I just wonder to what extent the wrong people have been in those jobs.  To what extent that might be a factor in what's gone on over the last seven or eight years, you know, that just the wrong people have been put in those jobs? 

CHRIS EVANS:  I don't think that's right. I mean there are structural things happening.  I mean no government has a majority in both houses of Parliament. We've had minority governments. If you look at other countries there's always more instability when you have minority governments.  There are some structural things going on as well. There are pressures, there's changes in the political culture. All of that comes in. I don't think focusing on the individual and saying these weren't the right people, they were the best and brightest of their generation.  Abbott, Turnbull, Nelson were the best and brightest of their generation in the Liberal side of politics. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you don't subscribe to the Shakespearian flaw theory of any of this? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Oh, we've all got one. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, but you don't subscribe to that idea, oh, why did they put that person in the job because everybody knows ... You know? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Well I don't want to get into personalities.  I think we're too accessible. I mean Howard made a great success of going on talk back radio every day but no Prime Minister in the world is nearly as accessible as Prime Ministers of Australia. Obama will do a press conference once a month. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But some people see that as a very good thing? 

CHRIS EVANS:    But it also means you're making policy on the run, you're having to respond to all sorts of things that you haven't thought about, and quite frankly I think it actually lowers the sort of respect for the institution as well. And I'm not against access but the British Prime Minister, Canadian Prime Minister, American President, they don't do nearly the amount of appearances and aren't nearly as accessible as Australians are, and Howard used it very effectively but I think it's also had an impact where people expect your leader to be able to go out, answer everything about everything on talk back radio. Quite frankly no one knows the answer to everything and I think it encourages people to be short term, to make stuff up as they go, to pretend they've got answers that, you know, you can't say in Australian politics "I don't know". That's not allowed.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can you say you don't know? 

RAELENE CASTLE:   I absolutely subscribe to that and I think that's what earns you enormous credibility.

CHRIS EVANS:   But you don't on the morning when one of your players has got charged with drugs overnight, you can't get away with that, can you? 

RAELENE CASTLE:  Well no, the answer to that would be a question if I didn't - I had it happen to over me over Christmas time. I was sitting on the beach in New Zealand,  I got a phone call from a journalist to say one of your players has been DUI'd and I said well I don't know anything about it so let me find out and I'll come back to you.  And fifteen minutes later I rang the journalist back and said yes, this is the situation that we're at because you just pour petrol over the issue and make it worse if you make stuff up or go on the run. 

CHRIS EVANS:  But you also felt obliged to get back very quickly because you know the story would run away from you very quickly if you didn't get in there. 

RAELENE CASTLE: Well there's a level of manners in the process as well.  I think when you're trying to build good relationships with the media that's what you need to do but you know, it does happen and I absolutely think that's where the trust and respect comes in and if I talk about John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minster, he's not afraid to say I don't know. He is very well briefed and he's across a lot of information and is very smart and charismatic and charming and he's a third term Prime Minister that's never had a leadership challenge and he does all those things. He goes on talk back radio, he's accessible at the highest levels playing golf with Obama, but also in his jandals walking around a flea market if that's what he needs to do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jandals, you have to say - I know what jandals are, but a lot of people don't. 

RAELENE CASTLE:  Thongs.  Yeah, so you know, I've seen it from that perspective and how he has, to your point Clare, he has managed to get people around him.  They believe he's the best person for the job, they have trust in him, they continue to support them and New Zealand's been in a very stable political situation so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you think it's possible to say I don't know? What about you Ange, can you say you don't know to the Socceroos? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Well, yeah, I mean I think it depends on the context. I mean, you know, I can't say I don't know during a game. During the heat of battle you know, you can't turn to your superior and say what do we do here and say I don't know? It's just not going to work.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But outside of game day, I mean how often would you say you don't know in your job as a leader? Do you find it easy or not? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  No, I don't and that's just me and my personality. I just, I sometimes, particularly when I'm dealing with the people directly around me, is to try and give them an answer that will satisfy them and if I bluff my way through a little bit, then send them away, then I'll get them back and I can see…

PETER LEAHY:   The bluff will come back. 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  They'll come back and when they come back I'll have the answer and that's my key. Look I think ultimately that's what leadership is about and I think there's too much at the moment, my personal opinion, of people wanting a collaborative approach because they don't want the buck to stop with them. And I think people can see through that at some point. Leadership is about accountability.  At the end of the day what I found out during my journey as as we've said, but understanding that you know what, I'm accountable for it and I'll take responsibility for it.  And I think once you do that, you begin to person people's respect. They'll say you know what?  I'll follow you because I know that if it doesn't work out, you'll the one that takes responsibility. 

RAELENE CASTLE: And do you say I got that one wrong? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU: Thankfully I haven't got it wrong too many times. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well I'll take you up on that a little bit later. 

ANGE POSTACOGLU: I wouldn't have survived. Anyone who knows coaching I wouldn't have survived for twenty years if I got too many wrong. 

RAELENE CASTLE:  But it's not about getting it wrong, it's about being able to say, I think it's about earning the trust and being able to say to the people around you I got that one wrong because once you've said it there's nowhere else for it to go.

ANGE POSTECOGLOU: No, I agree, but I think if you say that too many times.

RAELENE CASTLE:  Of course not. 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU: I think people will turn around and go, well…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are we talking about you ever saying  it Ange? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Yeah, I'm a bit like,  I don't know, it's my generation but Fonzie saying I'm sorry.  I find it hard to do and in some respects, and that could be my failing as a leader,  is I see that as a weakness on my part and I'll beat myself up big time if I get one wrong. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When you won't show that to anyone? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  I'll try not to.  When you're successful, you don't have to worry about a lot of those things. It's through adversity and the challenging times where you're obviously getting things wrong because you're trying to get through a process but you need to maintain that belief through that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Peter, you reacted against some of the things that Ange was saying before, why? 

PETER LEAHY:  I think you have to be prepared to say I don't know because some of these issues are political issues, the economic and social issues, they're just so complicated, you've got to all those disparate groups together, you've got to figure out what's going on. We've got plenty of big problems and I'm not sure I'm seeing people go and stand next to those problems and do something about it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   They would say they're trying to of course.  

PETER LEAHY:  Well yeah, well they should try harder. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   In what way? 

PETER LEAHY:  Well be more inclusive, talk to people, have a debate, have a discussion.  I'm hot at the moment on this issue of the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force are at war and we're really not having a debate about what that means. I'd like to see that in the Parliament. I'd like to see some really serious public discussion about the fact that we've been in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq in 2003, did we do the right thing all the way through and just when are we going to get out of those places because we're still there? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you think we should get out of those places? 

PETER LEAHY:  No, no, I think we should have done things differently up until now so there'd be a better chance of getting out.  I'd like to see them leading that public debate, building that consensus, building the team, building the trust, building the respect and saying well now we're going to go forward together. I don't see that sense of direction which to me is the most important thing about being a leader - that is giving purpose and direction so that people can follow you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   There is a school of thought that says good leaders need to be humble, it's very popular in management circles at the moment, this idea of humility. What do you think about the idea of being humble as a leader, and Ange I don't know why I'm looking at you but I am. 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Um, humility okay, no, look I've think there is an element of it, particularly I think when, when things are going well. I think if you do, you know, share that success and have humility in that sense, then I think you do earn people's respect because they know that you've appreciated their efforts in that part of the journey.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Humble, is that a word that comes to mind in politics, Clare? 

CLARE MARTIN:  Humble, I'm working on that one. I'm working on the humble one. I'm not quite sure where that sits. When I do believe, even though we talk about, you know, knocking off tall poppies, we talk about the kind of anti-authoritarian kind of Australian society, I do think we want leaders. We want leaders who do show us some vision for the future and I don't know whether that quite works with being humble.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you think Peter? 

PETER LEAHY:    I think it's important. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Can a Chief of Army be humble? 

PETER LEAHY:  Well I hope so. I think it's important that it's the we word rather than I, so to me the Army's this big community and everybody celebrates in all of the successes and no one should be claiming too much of it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about ego then, I mean when you have control, when you have a certain degree of power and influence how do you keep your ego in check? 

PETER LEAHY:  Well you need a wife. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  A lot of people don't? 

PETER LEAHY:  You need a wife or kids or somebody else, or in any case the RSM of the Army who I've known a long time. You know, just cool it boss, just slow down a bit. You need the ego but I think it's got to be suppressed. 

JENNY BROCKIE: What do the rest of you think? 

CHRIS EVANS:  I think that's a good point.  There was nothing like being flying home from Canberra and being told it's your turn to clean the toilets.  I think if you are single in federal politics it can be quite tough you don't get that grounding, everyone treats you like you're really important and you might just start to believe it. There's nothing like going home to knock that out of you very quickly. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about the rest of you, I mean what do you do with your ego?  Do you feel your ego getting out of control sometimes in a top job? 

CLARE MARTIN: I think it can escape as times and I think you have to, you know, round it up again and corral it and take it home. But one of the things I used to do was, the electorates in the Northern Territory are very small in numbers and I used to door knock and there was nothing like actually knocking on somebody's door as Chief Minister and having them honestly tell you what their issues were rather than the issues you thought were the important ones.  Often there was a wide gap between it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ange, you won the Asian Cup, can you write your next contract? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Well, and anyway, I guess everyone who watched that will know what a fine line there is between success and failure.  So that's enough to keep your ego in check because you just, there's no guarantee of success. You can do everything right, and I don't know, I struggle with the whole word ego, I'm not really sure how you define that. I mean I have a strong self-belief in what I do but I don't think that's, you know, an ego component of my character. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Peter, I know you think language is important as a leader, you don't like certain people calling you mate, for example. Why? 

PETER LEAHY:  No I don't think mate is a good word in the military and I used to say to the young officers I don't want you to be mates with your soldiers and it goes back to the point we've been making that it's a lonely place and at some time you're going to have to make a decision that will impact on them and it may impact on their lives, and so you don't want to be in that position where it's too friendly. To me a mate is not, I know it's a great Australian word but in the military context it's not a great word, but boss or skipper or something like that, then you know this is starting to work. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Raelene, what do they call you, what the players call you? 

RAELENE CASTLE:  Particularly the Kiwi boys call me auntie which is, which is funny because the first time they did it I thought they must have thought I was like 100 years old because I was thinking my goodness, but you realise that for them that was very much very quickly they're way of saying it's a respectful term, particularly in the Polynesian Maori cultures. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Let's talk about failures. What about the things like culture, you know, there were allegations around bullying culture in the Army? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Things like that, I mean do you think you did enough to address those things when you were there? 

PETER LEAHY:  Well Chris might be the better guy to comment on this because in Senate estimates and around and when you were shadow and doing other positions, you were giving me a pretty hard time there Chris. We were trying the best that we could to get this and I think…

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you've had a bit of time now to be out of it and look back. 

CHRIS EVANS:    I think to be fair, Peter, I think the leadership had changed and moved on and adopted a new style of leadership but it takes a long time to change an institution, you're turning a big ship around and I think Defence culture about bullying and acceptable behaviour and sexism and those things has taken a long time and the leadership got there a lot earlier than the troops did and as I say that's just how hard it is to change culture.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Changing culture is an interesting one for you too, Raelene, given you know, the controversies in rugby league around treatment of women and things like that, I mean the spotlights been very much on the Bulldogs in that area. How do you shift culture? 

RAELENE CASTLE:  Oh, by outcomes, you know, there has to be a line in the sand where things are unacceptable and when that line is crossed, action has to be taken and I think that's often the risk in sporting environments is if it's the superstar or if it's the best player or if it's someone that's really important, the goal posts are moved to allow that player to continue and I think that's about setting culture to make sure the line is the line, everyone understands where the line is and it doesn't matter who you are, when you step over it there's consequences.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  Chris, as Immigration Minister, where do you think you failed? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Oh, how long have we got? No, look, I mean…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Well I'm interested in what you think about where you think you let yourself down. 

CHRIS EVANS:    Well, I suppose the way I look back on it is to say that I was trying to get a consensus in Australia that we had a fair and just system that treated people with dignity and respect, but also allowed us to manage our borders and to manage people coming to the country in an orderly way, in a way in line with our processes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about the spike in boat arrivals though, did you regard that as a failure? 

CHRIS EVANS:   Well yes, I mean you've got to say that was not an intended policy outcome, but equally, equally the case is that Australians were tired of what had happened under Howard.  They didn't like seeing people suiciding in detention centres, they didn't want kids in detention centres and we've gone full circle, we're back to the same debate and this is the terrible thing about this whole debate in Australia is we do this every ten or fifteen years.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Clare? 

CLARE MARTIN:  I can put my hand up to political failure, yes. Quite clearly June 21, 2007, John Howard rang me and said we're intervening on the Northern Territory Clare, and I don't care what you say, we're doing it. And I felt a deep sense of failure for Aboriginal Territorians, a deep sense that I couldn't, I couldn't in a way protect them against what was going to happen from a national level for political reasons. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you though…

CLARE MARTIN:  And I still feel that sense of failure.  

JENNY BROCKIE: But was it a sense of failure around you not having done enough to protect children in the Northern Territory before that intervention because the finger was squarely sort of pointed at you around that? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   You know, the justification for the intervention was that the Territory government wasn't doing enough. Did you feel you'd failed in that case? 

CLARE MARTIN: We were never going to be able to do enough. I mean you know you've got budgetary constraints. We had done a whole lot more than any other government had ever done and it was never going to be enough, but the rhetoric as in an immigration issue, ramps up and you can't control that.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ange, where do you think that you've not succeeded as a leader?  

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  A few snickers in the audience.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   I've got a few notes here but, you know, I'll ask you what you think first. 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Yeah, look I mean failure is a really strong word. I think for a coach…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Getting a few laughs here. 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Look, I guess the one time, the only time I've been really disappointed in myself as a person, I guess as a leader, was you know coming to the tail end of my tenure as national under 20 and 17s coach, I compromised a lot of my beliefs because of influences within the organisation that were telling me that we needed to go in a certain direction. I guess from my perspective, I felt for myself that I didn't do myself justice during that time because the core beliefs I had I compromised and probably the one time in my coaching career that I fell into that self-preservation mode of doing what I thought would keep my job rather than doing what I thought was going to be the right thing to do. My time again, I probably would have resigned earlier on not compromising my beliefs on how the program should have been run.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you doubt yourself when you were losing those games in the World Cup? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  No, absolutely not, absolutely not, no. Because I had, ultimately I was doing what I believed would get us in a better place. 

JENNY BROCKIE: Even if it meant not getting in a better place in the World Cup? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Absolutely, yeah, because my belief is that for us to, to get to where we want to we have to make some tough decisions and I think if I lost belief in myself, I had no chance with the people around me. They would have sensed it straight away. If at any stage while we were going down this road, and I like going down the road less travelled, I like not doing what everyone else is doing, I like, you know, trying to do things in a different way. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Once people seriously question your judgment as a leader, and I'm thinking of Prince Phillip being knighted here and the public division that's kind of blown out ever since that decision, can you recover?

PETER LEAHY:  I think it's hard. But the Prime Minister has, I think, done what he had to do. He's admitted a mistake and now it's a matter of him working through and putting that behind him and hopefully the community can also put it behind him and then take us to that better place. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is there a tipping point with judgment though?

CHRIS EVANS:    I think the problem for Prime Minister Abbott is that they're surprises, I mean his back benchers wake up in the morning and he hasn't doing something that's in tune what they said they were going to do or reflective of their broader philosophy or where the team was heading. Suddenly there has been a number of things out of the blue that his back benchers would have woken up in the morning and said what the hell's going on here? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   There was quite a bit of erratic behaviour went on in the Labour government as well? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Yes, and we used to have similar issues as a result. They've learnt very well from us unfortunately.

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  I think there a tipping point and in sporting parlance, you know, if the coach loses the dressing room, that usually means there's going to be one casualty and it's the coach.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have you had that happen? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  No, I hope not anyway, not that I know of, but you've always got a sense of it because the reality of it is it's a lot easier to change a coach, a Prime Minister, a leader, than it is to change a whole team, a caucus, you know, a whole group of people.

RAELENE CASTLE:   I got given a really good piece of advice by my mentor. He'd observed me with some staff and he said to me you've got to get close enough to them to earn their respect and that you're genuine, because I think being genuine and authentic is really important, but not so close that you can't kick their arse. They also have to know that you'll make the tough decision and make the hard call when you've got to. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   This interests me, this idea of you know, getting too close and having to make those tough decisions. You had to do that with one of your best friends. 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Yeah, it was probably the first major decision I had to make as a coach. I was 30 years old and put in this senior position and one of my closest friends, I had to pretty much tell him that his time was up. He was a much better player than me, he was, as I said, one of my closest friends, we sent from being team mates to me being coach and him a player and I had to sit across the desk from him over a cup of coffee and tell him that it was end. Now that's taught me a really good lesson that Raelene's talking about, from then on I made a conscious decision that I couldn't get too close to those people around me where it would affect my judgment of having to make a tough decision about them.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You've talked about trust and judgment. What else breaks a leader? 

CLARE MARTIN: Losing confidence in your ability to be that leader. You need to feel confident, if your confidence starts to get rattled, then you're better off going, there's no point. 

CHRIS EVANS:  It's also about isolation I think, if you start losing contact with the group who you're trying to lead and losing connection with their aspirations and their expectations, then it's quite easy to become isolated in a leadership role because I think once you become isolated then that impacts on your decision making and I think you can get more and more isolated.

PETER LEAHY:  I think the other thing is you run out of ideas and you run out of energy and leadership is about ideas and taking people somewhere, you've got to keep that vibrant. You've got to keep that alert. You've got to keep people interested and wanting to follow you and similarly running out of energy. I think some people think leadership is about me, I'm going to hang onto the position. They're not thinking about what they're actually doing for the organisation and so there is a tendency and we've seen it in recent history, a tendency to hang on for too long. I think you've got to respect the organisation, respect the nation if you like, and say right, my times up. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is that what you think Tony Abbott should do? 

PETER LEAHY:  No, I was thinking more, I had six years of Chief of Army and I thought towards the end of it that's long enough for me but also long enough for the Army. 

CHRIS EVANS:  It's a really sad thing about politics - the Army handles it well because it almost forces people out by the rotation system.  But in politics there are so many bitter and twisted people who had great careers but only remember the last couple of days as they got removed as it were. So I think planning your succession and leaving at the right time are two really key aspects of leadership and they're the two that are often, often failed by many people and that's true of any business or endeavour you're in, is staying too long and not planning your succession.  I mean if you're a leader you've got to do both. 

RAELENE CASTLE:  I think that's what leadership is about, isn't it? I think that in other organisations that's an easier decision to make and politics sometimes it's very difficult when you're the Prime Minister, where do you go? So the reality of everyday leadership is quite different. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I just wonder how you know when to tough it out. You know, how do you determine in those situations when you should tough this out and when it's time to go? 

CHRIS EVANS:    Normally it's about, you know, how long have you done the job?  Do you still have the enthusiasm? Are you still the right person and is it time to give somebody else a go? As I say, this thing about thinking you're indispensable is the biggest trap. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ange, if you'd lost the Asia Cup would you have toughed it out? 

ANGE POSTECOGLOU:  Oh absolutely because the Asia Cup was never going to be the end point for us and the first thing I said after winning it was that this is the beginning, it's not the end because there's so much more we can accomplish, we need to accomplish, and I believe we can as an organisation and I believe me as the coach can get us to that place.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Great note to end on, we could keep going a lot longer but fascinating discussion tonight, thanks so much for joining us, it's been really interesting. That's all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and Facebook.