Thursday 22 February 2018

Economic uncertainty: the secret sauce for thought leadership

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re probably aware of the political Punch & Judy show doing the rounds both in Canberra and across our airwaves. When it’s not about asylum seekers, the topic of the script turns back to climate change, and Australia’s newest tax.

This post is not about the relative merits or lack thereof provided by a tax on carbon, partly because I’m not a climate scientist, but mostly because I have an ongoing fascination with the correlation between corporate ebb tides and political stalemates.

I like them because it’s during times of uncertainty that real leaders stand up. Leaders are the ones who set directions for others to follow. This is great, because in the world of public relations, one of the things companies come to us for is help with thought leadership.

And here’s what I find really interesting. We’re in a protracted period of political and economic uncertainty. Sure, if you’re in the coal industry, or energy generation, or Greece, you have some fairly immediate concerns. But for most of us, regardless of what happens in Canberra vis-à-vis the carbon tax, at the end of the day, business leaders are going to get on with business and adapt to the new conditions.

Now is the time for true leadership. In the midst of chaos, or failing that, apathy, is the time when real leaders shine through. When the economy slows down to watch the political sideshow, when businesses hold off on making decisions because they’re “waiting to see what happens”…this is when leaders steal the initiative, by cracking on, making a decision and getting on with the job.

That’s why this week’s news that BHP Billiton dropped $15bn on the purchase of shale gas producer Petrohawk is a brilliant demonstration, not just of thought leadership, but of leadership in the more pure sense. It sent a strong signal that the former Big Australian remains, as always, a major player in its sector. More importantly, it prompted Fairfax business commentator, Malcom Maiden, to lead his column with this: “What an awesome company BHP Billiton is.” Now THAT, is thought leadership.

- Grant Smith


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