Monday 23 April 2018

Earning the license to lead

At last week’s Edelman Trust Barometer launch in Melbourne (click here for Sydney coverage of the national launch), the theme for much of the session was the idea of businesses earning the license to lead.

One of the stories shared by our panel was that of the reinvigoration of North Melbourne Football Club, as told by CEO Eugene Arocca. From an uncertain future in 2007, the club is now once again an integral part of its local community.

In the past week, two critically insightful occurrences have sharpened focus on this idea – that businesses can earn a license to lead and shape the national agenda.

First of these was the announcement last Friday by ANZ Bank that it would raise interest rates, out of step with the Reserve Bank. While Westpac followed suit shortly afterwards, ANZ captured public attention by doing it first. And very publicly. Since then, the rest of Australia’s “big four” banks have taken similar steps.

The second key event of the past week is Monday’s special feature in The Australian, listing its 50 most influential leaders in business.

Occupying top spot is Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce. Back in November Mr Joyce was pilloried for daring to ground the airline amidst ongoing union negotiations.

While not a week goes by without someone asking me whether I think it was a “PR disaster” (quite what that is I’ve never really understood), the truth of the matter is that it was a defining step in re-evaluating Australia’s industrial relations landscape.

For proof, look no further than the recent declaration from Toyota’s local head that productivity issues are doing Australia’s manufacturing landscape no favours.

Regardless of whether you think a fleet grounding, an interest rate rise or an “occupy” protest movement are good ideas, the reality is that the decision to take action in each instance has been a definitive statement of leadership.

The idea of a license to lead has been central to some of my thinking about the practice of public relations for some time, and the decisions of Mr Joyce and ANZ CEO, Mike Smith, approximate loosely to the idea of “throwing an elbow” (see here and here for references). In a turbulent, tumultuous market like the one we’re currently living in, true leadership continues to demand drastic measures. Frequently, leadership flies in the face of popular opinion and there’s a good example of that going on right now in Greece.

There’s a reason we talk about “earning” a license to lead. It’s not gifted to us either by market share, market capitalisation or market dynamics. It’s not bestowed by an independent arbiter. A license to lead is granted by like-minded organisations that see merit in an idea, an action, a vision. A license to lead is granted by a discerning customer base and challenging market conditions. A quick glance at The Australian’s Top 50 shows it to be littered with visionary, strategic leaders, whom regularly make front-page news with the power of their decisions. The question now is…who will be the next?



Disclosure: Edelman Australia has worked with a number of banks in the past, including current client (Bendigo & Adelaide Bank). This blogger also flies quite a lot and was a little bit put out by the 2011 grounding of the Qantas fleet, however he also enjoys the Qantas butter chicken on those Melbourne-Sydney commuter shuttles. He also hopes to one day have a home loan.