Monday, July 4, 2011

5 Leadership lessons from the handling of the Australian live cattle export.

When a national TV show broadcast the bad treatment of live cattle exported to Indonesia, the Australian Government moved to immediately suspend the $320m a year industry.

Now, people involved in the industry are losing jobs, companies are facing ruin and there are doubts Indonesia will want to import Australian cattle ever again.

To be fair, not everyone thinks the Government's decision a bad one. Some think the decision failed to go far enough. Whatever one's position, there are some valuable leadership lessons to be learned from the affair.

1. It's a Mistake To Confuse Action with Leadership

The Government, facing plummeting opinion polls and with a reputation for failing to solve problems (think mining tax, carbon tax, national health scheme, the Malaysian Solution) wanted to be seen as decisive and able to take action.

By acting in order to be seen to act the Government was actually re-acting rather than leading.

2. It's a Mistake To Think Through an Action After Taking Action

The decision to ban live cattle exports to Indonesia was made without any written submissions to cabinet.

It was two weeks AFTER the trade ban was announced that the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences began surveying farmers to "determine the effects on farm businesses of the suspension of trade to Indonesia".

Initially the government said there would be no compensation to the local cattle industry. Then they announced a $3m fund and later a $30m. The Government looked like they were making things up as they went ... because they were, and this makes people nervous.

People want to be confident their leaders have thought decisions through before, not after, they are made.

Anyone can have hindsight. Leaders exercise forethought.

3. It's a Mistake to Act Without Considering Other Actions

Media reports state that nothing but a full and immediate ban on the Indonesian cattle trade was considered by the Government. No other options were suggested, let alone entertained.

When making decisions, Option A might indeed be the best option, but one can never know that without at least considering Options B, C and D.

Good leaders consider options. In fact, they demand options, even when the solution seems obvious.

If Options B, C and D are all duds, nothing is lost. What is gained is added confidence in the initial response of Option A.

On the other hand elements of Option B, C, or D might improve Option A or indeed prove all together better than Option A.

The point is, leaders have thought about options even if only to discount them.

4. It's a Mistake to Act Without Involving People Smarter Than Yourself

The Foreign Affairs Minister was advised of the decision to cease trade with one of our largest trade partners AFTER the decision. One would have thought the Foreign Affairs Minister could have added insights during the decision making process (I use the word process very loosely) that may have informed Cabinet's decision.

According to media reports, the Foreign Minister was only really engaged in the affair when it became apparent that the action taken was creating all manner of unintended consequences.

The lesson here is simple. It's far more prudent to admit you need help making the right decision than to ask for help cleaning up a bad one.

Better to choose humility and ask for help making a decision than to suffer the humiliation of having to beg for help when your unilateral decisions have turned to custard.

5. It's a Mistake to Act Without Preparing Those Affected

It is claimed that neither those in the cattle industry or affected state governments were advised of the decision to ban cattle exports before it happened. Further, it's said that Indonesia found out their meat would no longer be delivered, via a letter delivered by Australian consulate staff.

This Government is often accused of over-consulting. On this occasion we learned what happens when people are not consulted.

It's inevitable that most decisions will result in some people being worse off for it, or at least perceiving themselves to be worse off. I'm rather depressed to admit that, on more than one occasion, I've made decisions without stopping to consider who might feel the poorer for it and without communicating directly with them the reasons for the decision.Then, like this Government, I've been shocked at the adverse reaction to my decision.

It's amazing how people who might 'lose' from a decision will nevertheless go with it if they feel like they were considered in the process. It should not be so surprising that when decisions are 'handed down from on high' and communicated indirectly, after the event, that those same people react angrily.

The decision simply adds insult to injury; the injury being that they were obviously not considered important enough to be properly considered.

The above was from james macpherson as a tweet

On Monday 4th July 2011, @jamesmacpherson

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