Let’s talk about leadership and the model of leader as servant.
To be sure, there are other models, which may intersect with this idea of service. The authentic leader. The adaptive leader. The transformational leader. The values-based leader.
At the moment, however, the idea of leaders who are also servants seems to be the antidote that the world needs.
In positions of power, under stress, under duress, the leader as servant carries burdens that for most of us would be unbearable. Each day they behave decently; each day, they appeal to what is good in us; they turn up without whining about how tough it is for them.
A standout in 2022 therefore is President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine.
When advised to flee Ukraine and make himself safe, he stayed. When advised to hide, he made himself visible.
When talk came last month of compromise, he simply stated that:
I want this aggressive Russian war to end justly … Ukraine should not be offered to conclude compromises with its conscience, sovereignty, territory and independence. We respect the rules and we are people of our word.
From Australia, distant and secure from a murderous winter war, it’s impossible to understand the hurt inflicted on the Ukrainian people by drooling, criminal Russia. We think, however, that President Zelenskyy – in leading from the front – has the back of the Ukrainian people. From this great distance, it seems as though President Zelenskyy behaves exactly as a leader should during a crisis.
He remains calm and displays a steady courage. He remains visible and accessible.
He listens and defers to expert advice. He takes responsibility for his decisions.
He mourns for those who are most grievously lost but does not resile from the rightness or the heavy cost of defending Ukraine.
Of course, the ultimate measure of a leader is what they achieve. In 2022 President Zelenskyy has been singularly successful in keeping Ukraine safe. We think he’s been an inspiration for a traumatised world.
But next year is next year. The pressures on President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine will be intense. Our hopes for 2023 therefore are for an end to this crazed war and for a Ukraine that is free, safe and secure.
Edmund Burke, political theorist and hugely influential as a conservative political thinker, once tied the idea of a free media to good government: ‘There are Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sits a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.’
Today this is no conservative notion. For if Burke were to read or watch mainstream Australian media he’d be rolling in his grave or grinding dry teeth or sourly clanking bony hands.
News Corp, of course, is beyond the pale – a fact that doesn’t need to be stated, but which always should.
If News Corp is News Corp, then the ABC is Reek.
The good that the ABC does – the essential service it provides in moments of national and regional emergency – has been soiled by the steady dullness and timidity of its commentary and programming. That the ABC still thinks, for example, that Insiders is a good idea – that what Australia really needs to hold governments to account is a group of bestie journalists commentating on a horse race of the inane – defies understanding.
Commercial print, radio and television is addled by the Royal family, pantomime actors dressed as Friesian cows. It’s driven by vested interests, addicted to gambling and wedded to special pleading. It specialises in yuk-yuk, bovine blokieness. Setting a technical bar very high and an intellectual bar very low, Australia’s commercial media succeeds in its own limited self-defined terms.
What hope then for 2023?
Well, we can have faith in the good sense of Australians. The failure of News Corp as a political campaigner shows that Australians use a very long spoon when we consume the offerings of mainstream media.
And if we can’t trust general coverage we can certainly have faith some individuals. Kate McClymont, for example, has for years been a shining light at the Sydney Morning Herald. Four Corners still packs a punch. Nick McKenzie is outstanding. Laura Tingle deserves an Order of Australia.
We can have faith in a burgeoning independent press. A stable of very careful writers publish regularly on a whole range of topics. Karen Middleton for example has written wonderful stuff about the SAS, sexual harassment and leadership programs and the Governor-General. Rick Morton has been a star, most recently covering the Robodebt Royal Commission.
Finally, Twitter exists as a weird, flawed hive mind that is very often authoritative, expert and funny. It also hasn’t yet been totally wrecked by Elon Musk. We have hopes therefore.
To give a good presentation means you have to perform. The inner voice that sabotages us at the moment of delivery must be set aside so that content is delivered pitch perfect and with confidence.
We all can improve as professionals who need to convince, persuade and inform. Simple, powerful techniques set us up for success.
But a performance that transports and delights us is something different – and much more difficult.
Bill Bailey, the British comedian, was recently pounding the boards around Australia. He’s an older guy, sort of, who wears his hair as a bald pate with mullet strands. It’s a signature look that only a select few could get away with it.
He’s also a genius.
A musician and storyteller, on the stage he is magic. As a comic he’s a collider; he smashes together disparate ideas to create for us a new understanding of the world. He shows us combinations that we’ve never imagined before.
It’s true that we’re not yet out of the COVID-19 woods. But live theatre has once again been, well, live. And, by his performance, Bill Bailey showed us how much of human society that we’ve truly missed.