Differently wired

Sunday 10 March 2013 7:10 PM

Amidst the furious political commentary on the rise and fall of Ted Baillieu as Liberal leader, little has been observed about the role of temperament in the art of public leadership. It would be unfortunate not to consider what lessons might be learned, certainly for Mr Baillieu himself but also for other aspiring leaders and those who advise them.

Observations have been made of diminishing confidence in the Baillieu government on account of its seeming inertia, along with occasional inferences that the man seemed something of a recluse, even though a likeable character. To this writer, reflecting from personal experience and growing self-awareness, Baillieu has consistently evidenced what Jungian psychologists call a preference for introversion. More plainly, he is almost certainly an introvert. As such it seems frankly unsurprising that he has struggled to command public confidence in the party he has lead.

In the right context we introverts can make excellent leaders, and many great names from history could be offered as examples. However our styles of thinking and communicating seem ill-suited to some of the demands of modern parliamentary leadership. The 21st century phenomenon of the 24/7 news cycle with its high speed communications has made the challenge more acute, certainly. But more broadly it’s been a reality at least since radios became commonplace. In other words it’s about speaking when all the world is wants to know.

Introverts are people who function best when able to withdraw from public access for times of reflection. We innately prefer to think about what we'd like to say before saying it. This means we're less likely than others to pay the price of speaking in haste. But it also means we don’t do so well on our feet. We therefore find almost all kinds of interviews difficult, disappointing ourselves more often than not. The same goes for unscripted debates and even chairing public meetings (unless questions are strictly with notice). Baillieu has frequently done an excellent impersonation of a rabbit caught in the headlights, when facing the media, rarely seeming to speak with any reason, authority or conviction. Other introverts would commiserate with him, but may also ask what he’s doing in such a role in the first place. I for one, though thoroughly articulate, would be a disaster on a panel like ABC’s Q&A.

Further, the need for reflective space means moving at a generally slower pace than some, and needing due time to make decisions. Taking due time however is easier said than done with a growing in-tray. Under-reflected decisions are too often bad ones. All in all, many of Baillieu’s observable failures have been not unforeseeable.

The moral of the story: I shouldn’t lead a parliamentary party, and neither should Ted.