Politics is toxic and nowhere more-so than in Australia. Our Prime Minister was the bloke who threatened to ‘shirt-front’ Vladimir Putin over Russia’s role in the shooting down of MH17. He is from the right, like the Republicans, but without the Bible and handgun. Unlike the American political system, the party holding power can replace their leader even though they campaigned to the electorate under the banner of their leader to win office. The Prime Minister Abbott faced a potential revolt within caucus and came through unconvincingly. Although he fended off the first assault but then eventually lost the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull.
Politics is selling and Prime Minister Abbott must learn to speak from the heart, get real with journalists and the electorate to deal with the real cause of his problem. Let me give you an example of Abbott’s problem. Last week he was interviewed by our equivalent of an uber Fox News right wing commentator, Alan Jones, who threw an easy pitch for Abbott to smash out of the park – 'hit for six', to use a cricket metaphor. What happened… Prime Minister Abbott responded with vanilla custard sprinkled with liberal doses of ums and ahs (16 in just 45 seconds). Here it is.
Alan Jones finished the interview with: “You’re hopeless at talking about yourself… it’s clear that a lot of people don’t really know their Prime Minister. Who is Tony Abbott? We’re going to 77 stations – tell us about yourself... who is the real Tony Abbott?”
Prime Minister Abbott’s response (without the annoying ums and ahs): “Well; I’ve always been a bit reluctant to blow my own trumpet Alan; and I like to think that the facts speak for themselves. I’m the father of three daughters; I’m the brother of 3 sisters. I love my community, which I try to serve as a volunteer fire fighter and as a surf lifesaver. Obviously I like sport and try to get plenty of physical exercise because I think that's good for your mental health as well as everything else. But most of all, I am the Prime Minister of this country and I am spending every ounce of energy, I am dedicating every fiber of my being, to try to ensure this country flourishes.”
Alan Jones knows how to sell. He highlighted that the current government has inherited a debt crisis. Australia had 20% higher debt per citizen than Greece and the daily interest bill for government was $37,000,000. The Australian government was borrowing $110,000,000 per day to service debt and fund the budget deficit. Australia’s GDP was approximately 55% of California’s and it would take an Australian worker earning an annual salary of $75,000, 400 years just to service one day of interest payments for Australia’s national debt.
Here’s what Prime Minister Abbott needed to do to climb in opinion poll rankings. First, ‘ditch the script’ and forget the artificial humility. He is Rhodes Scholar and champion boxer... get on the front foot by being embracing the very things people claim are why they don't like him. Here is what I would have coached him to say to Alan Jones.
“Alan, I know people love to hate me… it’s become a sport – but I probably deserve it. I was chief head-kicker for a while in the Howard government and I made lots of enemies as a result. It was my role in the team at the time and if politics is just a popularity competition, then I’m in trouble. But you know what – I think the public are sick of populists who are incompetent. The last mob cost more than a thousand lives will poor execution of policy with boat people. They frittered away decades of hard work to destroy what was the strongest economy in the world. They set us on an unnecessary path of economic destruction and we’ve got to fix the economy with strong leadership. I know I need to listen more and improve my public speaking skills but [back to what he actually finished with] I am spending every ounce of energy, I am dedicating every fiber of my being, to try to ensure this country flourishes.”
He should be self-deprecating and embrace the haters. Humbly and humorously wear it as a badge of honor. Have a belly laugh (maybe his heart-felt laughter looks much better than the awkward smirk attempted smile; and he should wave like mad when they boo him at sporting events. When journalists ask him why he rates so low in opinion poles, he should just smile warmly and say: ‘You know sometimes I hate myself too [have a laugh at yourself]; but I have this crazy belief that Australians want someone who can run the place well. Competence in delivering what we’ve promised is what I’m focused on. Hopefully enough people will love to hate me enough to allow us to continue getting the place back on track economically and with sensible policy.”
He also needed to:
Learn to smile and laugh naturally. Embrace the hate and wear it humorously as a badge of honor.
Hire the best speech coach to overcome his 'ums' and 'ahs'. Maybe Geoffrey Rush is available after what he did in The King’s Speech.
Stop walking like he just got off a horse rather than a bike. I know he rides his bike nearly as much as Lance training for the Tour de Drug Testing, and as Tyler Hamilton wrote in his book, The Secret Race, professional cyclists are beautiful on a bike but walk like old men. A natural gate can be developed even for those who’ve had major knee or hip surgery.
We need the very best leaders in politics. They need to be authentic, not cardboard cut-out personas. Winning political office is selling and marketing; Winning reelection is about competence in delivery of what you promise... and sales and marketing. Sell; deliver; sell again. Selling is changing someone's emotional state, not the imparting of information. If you want to lead, be the real deal.
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Main Image Photo by Flickr: DonkeyHotey