The position of Prime Minister of Australia carries the burden of possessing and continuously honing the ability of great leadership to meet the demands of a diverse and complex range of societal and economic problems. Great leadership requires astute political skill. The factors of political skill are social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability, and apparent sincerity (Ahearn et al., 2004). In addition, political skill is directly related to the subordinate’s or public’s trust in the leader and the ability for the leader to motivate others to champion the leader’s causes (Treadway et al. 2004).
A great Prime Minister – a great leader must feel compelled to progress the country. Progress as a nation for the betterment of its citizens should always be at the forefront of a Prime Minister’s mind. For leaders to progress a country, they must lead through transformational leadership (Bass, 1990). Transformational leaders must have charisma (to gain respect & trust), inspiration (to inspire) and individualised consideration (so individual’s feel important to the leader) (Cossin & Caballero, 2013).
Intrinsic to transformational leadership and political skill is a high level of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2002).There are five factors of Emotional Intelligence:
- Self-awareness. The ability to recognize and understand personal moods and emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others
- Self-Regulation.The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, and the propensity to suspend judgement and to think before acting
- Internal Motivation. A passion to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status
- Empathy. The ability to understand the emotional make-up of other people. A skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions
- Social Skills. Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks, and an ability to find common ground and build rapport
As I know many of you have, I have observed quite a phenomena of regressiveness in our country. Our country appears to have stagnated. The question that needs to asked, to understand why is:
“If high emotional intelligence is intrinsic to transformational leadership and political skill, and these are antecedents for progress; then, is low emotional intelligence in a Prime Minister, a hindrance to progress?”
Emotional Intelligence is normally understood through a self-observation method/tool. However external observation methods have also been used (Pugh, 2008). For the purpose of this exercise, I am using a freely available Emotional Intelligence test (Institute of Health & Human Potential). Therefore, this is not as comprehensive as Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI) (Goleman, 2008) or other comprehensive EQ tests; but it will serve the required purpose.
Emotional Intelligence Analysis
As per the observation technique; I will show the question and my selection for the answer and qualify the answer below. I will then return the result for discussion. As this is a rather long blog post, feel free to skim past the explanations if you like. The responses are coded in red.
The Ratings Scale for all questions is:
Strongly Disagree / Disagree / Neither Agree nor Disagree / Agree / Strongly Agree
Question 1. I do not become defensive when criticized
Although Mr. Abbott has a practised technique to expertly avoid questions and scrutiny; he also uses covert defence mechanisms when criticised. He uses mechanisms such as denial. Mr. Abbott is reknowned for his broken promises and denial of wrongdoing. Another defence mechanism he uses is rationalisation. Mr. Abbott will often explain away the problem or issue, as if the wrong doing is justified. For example, when he used the term ‘Lifestyle Choice’ to defend the closure of Indigenous communities, he then further justified this term by stating he was just being realistic. Another use of rationalisation is blaming others. Blame Labor is a constant ‘go to’ for Tony Abbott to use as a defence for criticism. Therefore, I have chosen disagree instead of strongly disagree in this instance; as there are times that when challenged he does accept some responsibility (even if this is in the guise of a covert defence). Without a subjective perception, it is difficult to understand if he is using deep acting (genuine feelings) or surface acting here (non-genuine feelings) (Hochschild, 1979).
Question 2. I can stay calm under pressure
This question is actually quite tricky to answer as an observer; as I cannot directly experience any emotions Abbott may experience (thank God!). However, I have chosen this response due to the following reasons. Firstly, Tony Abbott definitely can remain calm under pressure to a general observer. As per the question above, he uses many techniques to deflect blame in a covert, yet defensive manner. Tony Abbott does have indeed some memorable responses when under pressure, such as when a journalist has backed him into a corner. An example is: “I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark. The statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared scripted remarks.”
On the other hand, Abbott is also well known for being quite prone to gaffes, captain’s picks gone wrong and just plain ridiculous comments, not befitting of a leader (or the infamous stunned silence). This question points to social skills and the ability to regulate ones emotions and also the ability to make sound leadership decisions. Although, outwardly he may appear to be regulating his emotions; his proneness to ‘gaffes’ can be supported by stress and decision making theory. Leaders who make poor choices under pressure are more likely to have both low self-efficacy (self-confidence/belief) in their own leadership skills and low-level emotional intelligence (MacKinnon et. al. 2013). In addition; Abbott often makes ‘off the cuff’ decisions and is known for not consulting others, including his well known ‘Captain’s Picks’ which have now left a trail of failures. MacKinnon provides some insight into the fluctuation of calmness and confidence and on the flip-side irrational thought and poor decision making. This could be argued that this is due to state anxiety, rather than a constant trait. Where Abbott is feeling quite pressured within a narrow time constraint, this is where the gaffes and Captain’s Picks and embarrassing comments are exposed. Leaders with low self-efficacy and low emotional intelligence do not take the time to consider all the alternatives; they make decisions without considering all the information and they consider alternatives in a very disorganised manner. Therefore, I have concluded that this response returns a ‘disagree’ rather than a ‘strongly disagree.’
Question 3. I handle set-backs effectively
Response: Strongly Disagree
This question points to motivation and the ability to overcome setbacks and relentlessly pursue goals. I have chosen strongly disagree in this instance; as it has become evident over time that under the Abbott Government; our nation has become stagnated and regressive. It is questionable whether Abbott had any long term goals as a starting point; or only to achieve his short term goal of winning the Prime Ministership. Newspaper after newspaper, with even the most right leaning newspapers joining the fray; we now read stories about how his leadership is terminal, having achieved nothing substantial and already having one leadership challenge (although there was no evident challenger.) His inability to negotiate with the cross bench and opposition to pass legislation, speaks volumes that he lacks the ability to handle set backs effectively to and relentlessly pursue goals.
Question 4. I manage anxiety, stress, anger, and fear in pursuit of a goal.
Response: Strongly Disagree
Once again, this is difficult from an objective view point. I have chosen strongly disagree for this question; as historically Abbott is well known for his outbursts of anger from his University days, right through to his pursuit of the Prime Ministership whilst in opposition. His one notable poorly managed anger response was the infamous ‘shirt-front’ incident; where he exclaimed “I’m going to shirt-front Mr. Putin. You bet you are, you bet I am.” The nonsensical latter half of the comment also points back to question 2, with another gaffe. The shirt-front comment shows an inability to consider all the alternative responses when put on the spot. As decision making is strongly tied to achieving goal objectives, I will refer the reader back to question 2, as included in how I have come to the conclusion for the response for this question. In relation to fear, once again, it is difficult to determine whether Abbott is using the technique of deep acting, where he genuinely is fearful of terrorism in this country and also believes asylum seekers to be terrorists. He is also accused quite frequently of using fear and nationalism as a tool to distract from contemporary pressures on the Government.
Question 5. I utilize criticism and other feedback for growth.
Response: Strongly Disagree
This question points to regulation of emotions and taking responsibility for your own performance. I have responded with a ‘strongly disagree’ as discussed above, Abbott has already had one leadership spill and he has promised to change. Six months on, it is quite evident that nothing has changed. Over the last six months, the gaffes, captain’s pick fails and inability to consult with others has remained static. This also is supported by question 2; as Abbott, either a lacks the propensity to change or has the inability to judge the perspective of others’ opinions of his leadership. This provides strong support for strongly disagree in that he does not take criticism on board, nor does he apply criticism to his own self-development and growth.
Question 6. I am positive.
Response: Strongly Disagree
This is somewhat difficult to judge based on the subjective perception; but from my objective perception I have chosen strongly disagree as the response. This question points to social skills and regulation of emotions. With regards to social skills, positivity is a tool used to motivate others to champion your goals and as a regulator to remain positive about your goals and change. Abbott also has a very negative view of minority groups in Australia. It could be argued that his ideological punitive approach to minority groups is an agenda for stigmatisation. His agenda for stigmatisation is a negative act to attempt to debase these groups as the tool to motivate others to accept punitive measures. He has a reluctance to frame Asylum Seekers and Indigenous Australians as an inclusive and cared for group. He has made some absolutely inexcusable and ignorant comments regarding both groups. Where Abbott tries to reinforce positivity, by repeating his ‘achievements’ of stopping the boats and axing the carbon tax; this is viewed as empty and hollow and for some, suspicious that these have been achieved or are worthy to be called ‘achievements.’ The shrillness of his vocal during these times and the rhetoric sounds as if it is to convince himself and not just others, also points to low self-efficacy of leadership as discussed in question 2.
Question 7. I maintain a sense of humour.
Response: Neither agree nor disagree
For this response, I have chosen neither agree nor disagree. Abbott does indeed display that he maintains a sense of humour – Humour which he (and possibly some others) finds funny. His humour is either prone to a gaffe moment. During the election these were affectionately referred to as ‘Daggy Dad moments. These gaffes often lead to general public expressing his gaffes as cringe-worthy and he also gives the social media political punters ample fodder for meme making and some very clever you tube videos. The memes and videos are often viewed as more humourous than the original intended Abbott humour, usually at the expense Mr. Abbott.
Question 8. I try to see things from another’s perspective.
Response: Strongly Disagree
The reason I have chosen strongly disagree for this question, is that this question points to the use of empathy in leadership. Abbott’s ingrained ideology and punitive approach is evidence that he lacks empathy and humanity in his perspective of and treatment of those on welfare, asylum seekers and Indigenous Australians and the LGBTIQ community. Where others have tried to explain the situational factors which cause harm; he either champions the cause of operating in secrecy, fobs people off, deflects blame onto others (Labor) or insists on legislation which makes society more oppressive for these groups. In addition, his lack of negotiation skills to progress legislation through the Senate, clearly shows he has the inability to understand the different perspective of others.
Question 9. I recognize how his or her behaviour affects others
Response: Strongly Disagree
This question points to the use of empathy and social skills. I have selected strongly disagree as Abbott has a very poor display of empathy and also has a very low level of understanding how to negotiate and understand others to form collegiate groups who work together for common goals. His lack of empathy in this area can be demonstrated with two recent current issues. The LGBTIQ community and allies are currently pressuring the Government for marriage equality. His lack of understanding of how the behaviour of those he champions on the Christian right is hurtful to the LGBTIQ community is quite evident. In addition, where the actions of his Ministers and border force agencies under the secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders have been exposed to be cruel and heartless, with fresh allegations arising now of water-boarding and other harmful acts against asylum seekers, including rape and child abuse; his lack of understanding how the behaviour of others (his MP’s and agencies) affects others is overwhelmingly astounding. The other instance also relates to the secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders with the recent allegations of covert spying on Senator Hanson-Young. To come to learn that you have been monitored in the privacy of your hotel room, must be extremely hurtful and shocking. Abbott’s silence on this issue, whilst he allows Minister Dutton to use derogatory language toward Ms. Hanson-Young is beyond reproach.
Question 10. I air grievances skillfully.
This question points to self-regulation and social skills. I have selected disagree, rather than strongly disagree; as I am not privy to how Abbott airs grievances within his own cohort in the party room or amongst his colleagues. However, where he does have a grievance, such as opposition to Labor policies; he demonstrates very poor skill in airing his grievance. His time in opposition as opposition leader saw a complete defiance to work with the Government of the day and he used a combative approach, rather than a conciliatory one. Instead of negotiating, he chose to inflame situations to the detriment of Australians. The tactic he used to air grievances whilst in opposition, was to champion three word slogans, rather than having any in-depth conversation with the public. This may have worked in opposition, as he had the luxury of assumed trust. However, as a political tool to implement as a Prime Minister, it will be difficult to bring others on board with change, with a shallow approach of sloganeering with a trust deficit. As Prime Minister where he may have a grievance about a current situation, his approach is either to deflect blame (blame Labor) or where he cannot do this, he will be completely absent and in hiding (as per the recent Speakership debacle).
Question 11. I can listen without jumping to judgement.
Response: Strongly Disagree
This question points to self-regulation and social skills. I have selected strongly disagree, as this ties in with question 2 with regards to decision making. As discussed in question 2; Abbott does not display that he takes the time to consider all options and has an ingrained ideological perspective, which is regressive and stagnant rather than progressive. To progress; one must have the ability to listen to others and suspend judgement. His inability to consult with others, has lead to a range of failed captain’s picks which have caused embarrassment for the Government. His resolve in sticking to the side of climate denial, despite the overwhelming evidence, and the insistence to lag behind other countries (including conservative Governments) on both climate change and marriage equality, supports that he is far to rash in jumping to his own conclusions, rather than a strong leader who is open to suggestions and ready to receive and consider the advice of others.
Question 12. I can freely admit to making a mistake.
Response: Strongly Disagree
As discussed in question 1 and other responses, Abbott is prone to deflecting blame to others, or using the excuse of secrecy as a cover, or he removes himself from the pressure by remaining absent from public view. Although during the election, we heard empty rhetoric such as ‘responsible Government’ ‘grown-up Government’. Abbott has held a consistent line of avoiding responsibility for mistakes. The one instance where he did take responsibility was his broken promise on cuts to the ABC. This question points to honesty and integrity as the sub-factor for emotional intelligence. It is fair to say that due to Abbott’s reluctance to take ownership of mistakes; this has created a trust deficit with the general public. The Abbott Government’s confidence rating has hit a record low; even lower than the period of the global financial crisis (Roy Morgan Research 2015).
Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire Result
Very Poor EQ
Based on my response selections, the EI Questionnaire has returned that Abbott would most likely have a Very Poor Emotional Quotient.
Research Question Response and Consequences for Discussion
Although some may find the findings argued here as amusing or something to joke about; I wanted to raise some points to discuss the seriousness of low emotional intelligence and leadership. Although this analysis was completed using an observation technique, readers should consider my responses based on my supporting reasons for each answer. I welcome any debate if your own conclusions differ.
Emotional Intelligence is critical for effective leadership. In light of the original research question: If high emotional intelligence is intrinsic to transformational leadership and political skill, and these are antecedents for progress; then, is low emotional intelligence in a Prime Minister, a hindrance to progress? The conclusion based on the analysis would be yes.
Observing low emotional intelligence, including low self-efficacy of leadership skill in a Prime Minister raises some serious questions:
- Low self-efficacy and low emotional intelligence affects the decision making ability of leaders. Is it fair for Australians to be Governed by someone who may be prone to making poor decisions?
- Considering the elements of risk; what are the worst consequences of poor decision making? Could poor decision making by a leader with low emotional intelligence and poor decision making skills result in war, famine or a collapsed economy?
- Self-regulated emotions which are managed poorly, can result in a trust deficit. What are the consequences if this causes a trust deficit between nations?
- When a leader shows a reluctance to welcome new ideas and rejects consultation with others regularly; how does this hinder progress and innovation to ensure a country is competitive and viable?
- How does the inability to show empathy and understanding towards citizens, particularly those in minority groups, increase stigma and isolation for these groups?
- To manage reform and progress, a leader must collaborate and co-operate with others. If a leader has poor skills in this area, how does a nation reform and progress?
- If we want the best people to lead the country, should testing such as emotional intelligence, personality testing, leadership skills and advocacy skills be included in the vetting process for candidate selection for all parties?
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