Julia Gillard at the 2022 election campaign. Source: AAP/Lucas Coch.

Harvard Business Review

Julia Gillard on being a leader, day-to-day management, and how she goes about recruitment

Harvard Business Review
11 minute Read

Julia Gillard was Australia’s prime minister from 2010 to 2013 and is the only woman to have held the position. Drawn into politics as a student activist, she persevered through early election defeats to win a Labor Party seat and then served as deputy prime minister under Kevin Rudd before eventually challenging him for the top job.

In 2012 she gained global fame for a speech decrying misogyny. A year later Rudd won a leadership contest against her, and she left government. She now focuses on advocacy for causes including education, gender equity, and mental health because, as she recently told the Simmons Leadership Conference: “If you are really passionate about something and raise your voice, you can make a difference.”

Why did you go into politics?

When I was young, it never occurred to me that people from families like mine were the sort who could. I was never the kid who at seven, 10, or 12 said, “I want to be the prime minister when I grow up”. That was like saying, “I want to be an astronaut”— undoable. But I went to university and studied for law and arts degrees and got involved in the student movement, protesting education cutbacks. That’s what spurred an activism and engagement in public policy in me, and I went on to lead the student movement nationally. I did get those degrees and practice as a lawyer. But people had said, “You really should consider politics.” It was a slow dawning over time that it would be a fantastic way of putting my values into action — and realizing that someone like me could do it.

You suffered some early defeats. Why did you keep going?

Once I decided this was what I wanted, I became determined—some might say stubborn. I stood for preselection, which is like a US primary, for a lower House seat in my party, and I lost. I stood for preselection a few times for the Senate, and I lost. I was finally preselected for the Senate, but in one of the more marginal slots and in a bad election for Labor, and I lost. That was a lot of hard knocks, but they just made me hungrier. I also think being an even-tempered person put me in good stead. I’m not prone to exaggerated highs or huge depths of despair. I am a true believer in the power of democratic politics to make big and important changes, and I wanted to play a personal role in that. So a sense of purpose and drive, together with a wonderful family and hugely supportive friends and colleagues, was enough to see me through.

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