Five leadership challenges for Campbell Newman – and for every new leader

Five leadership challenges for Campbell Newman – and for every new leader

The campaign may be over, but the work’s just starting for newly-minted Queensland premier Campbell Newman.

Campbell faces many urgent problems vying for his attention – big debts, disgruntled stakeholders and high expectations. They’re the same problems many new leaders face – in business or government.

The former Brisbane mayor was sworn in as premier today as his party stood poised to claim 78 seats in the 90-member Queensland parliament.

His resounding win promises an extended honeymoon with voters, but Newman’s challenges will materialise. There are lessons for all new leaders in Newman’s predicament.

1) The dangers of hubris and overreach

Newman’s spectacular victory is without precedent in recent Australian political history. Even Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s 1974 victory crushed Labor to a comparatively robust 11 seats (that was in an 82-seat parliament).

Total annihilation of one’s competitors can leave any leader prone to hubris. Take IBM in the 1980s deciding to focus on its mainframe business, and opting not develop personal computers. Complacency has led many a company to turn opportunity into competitive disaster. Last week, LeadingCompany editor Kath Walters advised another runaway victor, Network Seven, on how to avoid complacency. Successful market leaders are constantly afraid of their rivals catching up – ‘paranoid in a good way’, if you will – and her tips could help Newman and his team stay focused.

2) Prioritising

A new leader often faces all the problems of his predecessor, on top of his own.

Lachlan Harris, former press secretary to prime minister Kevin Rudd and co-founder of consumer choice company One Big Switch, says Newman needs to focus on his priorities. First he must deliver his campaign promises, such as lowering unemployment and returning to budget surplus.

“There’s a constant temptation to pick up new priorities post-election,” Harris tells LeadingCompany. “Avoiding that is a big challenge, but if he can do that he’ll do really well.”

Newman, like all new leaders, has to maintain a sense of urgency. It’s harder to change when an organisation is doing well than when it is when facing crisis. And the LNP will be feeling tremendously happy with itself.

Jean-Francois Manzoni, a professor of management at business school INSEAD, says one important strategy for combating complacency is to stay in touch with customers’ feedback, or in the case of Newman, close to voter concerns.

3) Managing a large, complex team

Imagine walking into a company with an executive of 78 people. While a large majority may not be a pressing political concern, it is a management one.

Newman’s leadership is safe: his convincing victory means he faces no competition from more experienced rivals.

But he’ll have to set a firm example about how to be a parliamentarian to the many new faces who join the benches.

“You’ve got an incredible array of first-term MPs,” says Harris. “The reality is they have a lot to learn about accountability and discipline.”

“But voters are understanding of new MPs. You’ll see some spectacular stumbles, but there’ll be some slack.”

But, Harris cautions, while voters may forgive individual MPs for slip-ups, they won’t be forgiving of the government as a whole. This makes it important for Newman to focus on the priorities he set during the campaign.

4) Getting educated

Newman will be under close scrutiny as the leader of Australia’s only unicarmel (one house) parliament. Parliamentary procedure is complicated, and Newman will be studying his house rules. And that’s just the obvious stuff.

Newman may be new to the parliament, but he can help his position by doing what the best business leaders have always done – surrounding himself with the best.

Entrepreneur, strategist and author Rose Herceg recently wrote: “The most elegant power players I know learn very quickly their shortcomings and foibles and then they recruit the shortfall.”

“Power players make an easy peace with the idea that their ‘subordinates’ are actually more talented than they are. It shows to true grit to employ smarter and better people … it is petty and generic to employ less than what you ware.”

5) Bearing the load

Of course, leaders have to look after themselves as well as their jobs. If Newman ever wonders whether he’s sufficiently qualified or experienced for his position, he wouldn’t be alone. CEO coach Frumi Barr recently told LeadingCompany many business leaders at various times in their career worry about their position. They may not have a lot of business education, or may have been promoted up more quickly than they had anticipated.

“I often get told, ‘I’m not a CEO like other CEOs I know; I feel like a fake or a phoney’,” Barr says.

The stresses of political leadership are well publicised. In Western Australia, Geoff Gallop stepped down from the premiership to focus on his battle with depression, while South Australian former treasurer Kevin Foley revealed in 2009 he had suffered clinical depression for several years.

The key to staying healthy mentally is for leaders to talk about their concerns, Barr says.

She says it’s important for leaders to have a confidante; whether it’s someone they engage professionally, such as a leadership coach, or someone close from their personal life.

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