Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's a "trust thing"!

In all my years of being either a leader and/or a consultant (now a total of well over 45 years) there is one factor that I have found to be consistent if an organisation is to be successful in both the short term and the long term. There needs to be a high level of internal trust at and across all levels and areas of the organisation while simultaneously there needs to a high level of trust between the organisation and its customers and potential customers.  In other words, ultimately success is based on trust.

And that is one of the prime reasons why I am worried about the current Australian Federal Government.

On September 7, 2013 the Australian people threw out the incumbent Labor Government primarily because it had lost their trust. A key factor in them losing much of this trust was the behaviour of Tony Abbott. As Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott ensured that any failing of the government was highlighted and that any discrepancy between what had been promised and what was done was well and truly advertised. He was, as I have said before, certainly the most effective Leader of the Opposition in recent memory and probably among the best Leaders of the Opposition that Australia has ever had.

However, from published opinion polls as well as from discussions with a wide variety of people it is clear that our current Federal Government is rapidly losing the trust of the Australian people. Everyone with whom I speak, no matter what their political leanings may be, tells me that this losing of trust is because of the behaviour of Tony Abbott. A previously highly successful Leader of the Opposition is currently widely seen as a mediocre Prime Minister at best. Under his reign, the Liberal-National Coalition seems to lurch from one self-inflicted crisis to another. The examples I am quoted include:
  • The apparent rorting of parliamentary expenses by politicians in both sides of Parliament including Tony Abbott himself
  • The intransigence of rhetoric against the Indonesians when it emerged that the previous government had tapped the phones of the President of Indonesia, his wife, and his closest confidants - President Obama had given a case study in how to defuse such a situation yet, probably for ideological reasons, this example was totally ignored
  • The buying in to a dispute between China and Japan regarding airspace over islands whose ownership is disputed between the two countries and which has nothing whatsoever to do with Australia
  • The fake military secrecy over asylum seeker boats arriving into Australian waters and the attempted politicising of an Army General in an attempt to ensure the Australian people are kept in the dark and fed bovine excrement
  • The absolute fiasco over the reform of education funding with a series of insults to the Australian people over what was said and what was believed to have been said followed by a backflip worthy of a series of 10's at the Olympics' high diving competition
  • The use of the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to seize evidence and to prevent a key witness from traveling in order to try and impact on a case (currently before the International Court in The Hague) that claims Australia acted immorally (and probably illegally) when negotiating oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea during 2004 because it bugged the Cabinet Room in East Timor and the information thus obtained was used for commercial purposes rather than for matters of Australia's national security.
  • The public disclosures from a senior member of Tony Abbott's own Coalition Government that the Prime Minister's office is obsessive about controlling information and micro managing its own people and activities - the very factor (obsessive control) that was a direct cause of the demise of previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
And, given that its not yet December 7, all this within 3 months of being elected!

There is good news and bad news in relation to all of this. The bad news is that trust - an essential ingredient of success - is being lost and goodwill squandered by what appears to be ineptitude from Tony Abbott and his Ministers. The good news is that there are almost 3 years to go before a new Federal election must be called and so Tony Abbott and his government have time to turn the situation around.

I have said before that, when there is inappropriate behaviour evident at any level of an organisation, the root cause of this is found in what the Chairman does and/or doesn't do. The "buck stops" with the chairman. Tony Abbott is, in effect, the Chairman of the organisation "Australia". We need to see some proper leadership from him - and right now that's another missing ingredient.

For those who want to ponder a little more widely, there are some messages here for those running commercial organisations, too.

I'd love to know what you think. Please make your comments below.

More information about Doug Long at

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tricky or downright dishonest?

"We will keep the promise that we made. It's not the promise that some people thought we made, or that some people might have liked us to make," Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Sunday December 1, 2013 in relation to funding of education in Australia.

Prior to the September 7 Federal Election in Australia, the issue of funding for education threatened to become a "wedge" item for the Liberal-National Party Coalition. The then Government (Labor) was using the Gonski Committee recommendations to illustrate a clear difference in policy - one (the Gonski Reforms) that would provide equitable funding for every student and the existing system that ensured non-government schools that were able to charge fees on top of funding received had a distinct financial advantage over government schools. When the possible wedge became apparent,  the Coalition promised to meet Labor's Better Schools funding promises and this was promoted as showing that there was no difference between the parties. Voters went to the September7 election clearly believing that the Gonski Reforms would apply no matter who the new government might be.

Tricky Tony! Right up there along with Tricky Dickie (President Richard Nixon) of so many years ago.

There is no doubt in my mind that, despite Tony Abbott's statement today, his statements prior to the September 7 election and the public relations exercises that accompanied these regarding education were deliberately designed to have people think that the Gonski Reforms were now "set in stone". What Abbott is now saying is "We haven't changed a thing. If you believed something other than what we are now saying then you were stupid!"

Prime Minister Abbott, we expect people like you to "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". If we examine your words closely, it is clear that you told us the truth but you didn't tell us the whole truth - you provided us with a statement that could be labelled "suggestio falsi" - a Latin phrase meaning suggestion of something which is untrue. I'm not a lawyer but I understand that suggestio falsi are grounds for rescinding an agreement because suggestio falsi amounts to a fraud whenever the party making it was bound to disclose the truth.

The problem that I have with what we are now seeing from Tony Abbott is that, despite all our hopes for a good government, he is proving the truth of a statement he made many years ago (prior to the 2010 Federal Election) when he said in effect "you can't trust anything I say. The only things that can be relied on are those that are in writing." Like many others, I had hoped that this soundbite was just a throwaway line and that the truth was different.

Clearly I was wrong. Tricky Tony is telling me that he cannot be taken at face value; that I have to examine the fine print on anything that is written and to pin him down to very tight specifics on anything that he says.

Prime Minister I am not stupid and neither are most of the other people who voted for you and your Coalition Parties in the last election. We believed you when you said you would govern for all Australians. We believed you when you said your government would not give us any surprises. We took you at your word and I for one am now bitterly disappointed.

The question I am now asking is "Is Tony Abbott simply tricky or are you downright dishonest?" Either way you are quickly losing my trust. Your actions over the next few years will give us the answer - tricky or dishonest could mean you head a one-term government.

I'd love to know what you think. Please leave your comments below.

More information about Doug Long at

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why Don't We Get What We Want?

It is now late November 2013 and two different national Opinion Polls released yesterday and today both show a similar story - the current Australian Government, elected only a month or so back, is losing the confidence of the Australian people. In fact, according to one Poll, the decline of the party in power (the Liberal-National Coalition) has been the fastest in Australian history.

To say that this decline is extremely surprising to many of us is to use strong understatement.

On 7 September 2013 Australians elected the Liberal National Coalition as Australia's Federal Government. The result was clear and unequivocal. In the House of Representatives the Coalition received an unassailable majority and in the Senate it was clear that the conservative vote (even if not for the Coalition per se) meant that the new Senate will be dominated by basically conservatives. Yet now, not 3 months later, the Polls say that, if an election had been held last week, the result may have been quite different - almost certainly the Coalition would still have won but its majority would have been significantly less.

As the late Professor Sumner Miller used to say, when speaking of science matters on Australian TV, "Why is this so?"

I suggest there are 2 reasons why this has occurred. I also suggest that failure to deal with these reasons could, potentially, lead to the previously unthinkable scenario that was suggested to me last week at a workshop I was conducting for senior business leaders. At that workshop a very senior leader with extremely strong Liberal Party connections and a person who is very much "in touch" with public opinion stated that we needed to face the possibility that the Abbott Government could be a "one-term" Government!

So let's look at the two reasons:

  1. Getting rid of what you don't want is vastly different from getting what you do want.
  2. The very things that have made you successful in the past are the same things that can stop you being successful in the future.
Getting rid of what you don't want is vastly different from getting what you do want.
During its period in power, the Labor Government under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had become increasingly dysfunctional. It had done some good things under both Prime Ministers but the factional in-fighting and the increasingly poisonous relationship between Kevin Rudd (and his supporters) and Julia Gillard (and her supporters) meant that there was increasing disenchantment with the Government and a reluctance to believe that it had any answers to the issues facing Australia. Accordingly, at the election on September 7, there was a strong consensus that "this lot has got to go". It was widely felt that anything would be better than what we had!

I think that what this first round of Polling is telling is that right now, based on what we have seen over the past couple of months, lots of people are saying "despite our earlier optimism, unfortunately right now we can't see that this current Government is the utopian answer for which we had been seeking."

The very things that have made you successful in the past are the same things that can stop you being successful in the future
Some 20 years ago I was at a conference in California where one of the key speakers was a successful businessman named Jim Belasco (author of the book "Teaching the Elephant to Dance"). Belsaco said that over his years in business one of the hardest lessons he had to learn was that those very behaviours that had made him successful in the past were the very behaviours that would stop him being successful in the future. The further he moved up the hierarchy, successfully encountering new challenges meant that he needed to use new behaviours.

There is no doubt that Tony Abbott, Australia's current Prime Minister, was one of the most effective Parliamentary Opposition Leaders in Australia's recent history - and possible the most effective. His pugnacious, take-no-prisoners, approach in which he largely succeeded in dictating the political agenda meant that he dominated the media and facilitated much of the negative perception with which the Labor Government came to be seen. As a Rhodes' Scholar, Tony Abbot was a Boxing Blue and I am sure that during this period he learned that there is a huge difference in the behaviour required of a challenger as opposed to that of a defending title holder. He needs to apply this knowledge now - both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard failed to appropriately change behaviours and I doubt that Tony Abbot wants to be in the same camp as them.

"So what," you may say. "This was the first set of Opinion Polls for the new Government and there is a long time before the next Federal election must be called." Very true and I, for one, am always sceptical of opinion polls because they can become self-fulfilling. I know about "lies, damned lies, and statistics!". But, in this case, it may be an early warning sign - something that says "here's something to be aware of but don't be too concerned at this stage".

In my latest book Delivering High Performance: The Third Generation Organisation (2013, Gower Publications, London) I make the point that there is plenty of evidence worldwide to support the view that the Chairman of any organisation sets the tone for the entire organisation and that, where inappropriate behaviour is found anywhere in the organisation, it is usually quite easy to show a direct linkage between the behaviour exhibited and the standards set and policed by the Chairman. Tony Abbott is, in effect, the Chairman of the organisation "Australia". Already since September 7 we have been regaled with possible abuses of the Parliamentary expenses system across both major parties and involving senior members of the Government (including Tony Abbott himself). Already we are seeing the same pugnacious, "I'm not going to listen to what the people say", approach from Ministers of the Crown as they showed when Opposition Spokespeople on various Ministries. This isn't going down well with lots of people and I think these first 2 Opinion Polls indicate this.

It will be interesting to see if Tony Abbott, an undoubtedly highly intelligent person, can make the necessary behavioural transitions from being a highly successful Leader of the Opposition to now become a highly successful Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd couldn't.

I'd love to know what you think. Please comment below.

More information about Doug Long at

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winning is everything?

I think it was the UCLA Bruins coach, Red Sanders who, around 1950, is reputed to have said "Winning isn't everything: its the only thing!"

It seems that this has been taken to heart by athletes over the years - of most recent note internationally we have it in the person of Lance Armstrong and, just the other week, in the widely publicised claims by the Australian Crimes Commission relating to a range of sports in Australia. If only "the end" is important than how you get there is irrelevant. Cheating, whether by the use of drugs or any in other form, is always a case of "the end justifies the means".

But its not just in sport that we find illegal and/or immoral behaviour. In Sydney right now the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is investigating how a then member of the New South Wales Parliament stood to gain up to $100 million in a matter of months from an investment of around $4million - it is claimed that a then Government Minister manipulated matters to ensure that his colleague benefitted. The hearing is being closely watched across the State with drama being played out every day and the final findings will be eagerly awaited whether or not corruption is held to have occurred.

There are questions in the business realm also. For years Australian consumers have been forced to pay significantly more for identical products when they are purchased in or from Australia rather than in the USA. In fact a recent enquiry showed that, for one product, it was cheaper to pay for a return airfare to the USA and purchase an item on-line there than it was to purchase the same item on-line in Australia. There is now a Federal Government enquiry being conducted into this possible price gouging and Microsoft and Apple (among others) have been summonsed to appear after they refused invitations to voluntarily appear. They are being asked to justify why identical products, both sourced from the same location and requiring no additional expenditure by the supplier, have such a huge price variance other than 'the end (profit) justifies the means'.

There is no doubt that winning is important. Equally there is no doubt that almost always (other than in some non-existent utopia) there are winners and losers in every arena of activity. This is normal and natural. However "how" you win should always be at least as important than the winning itself.

Recently I've been involved with a company that changed its "how" of doing business. Three years ago it was turning over around $55million annually for about $1million profit. Last year, without reducing staff levels, remuneration, or any employee benefits and while remaining a local manufacturing and distribution business they had revenues of around $70million for a profit of around $11million. Three years ago they saw themselves as losers. Today they know they are winners - all because they took a different approach to "how" and concentrated on a new form of leadership.

What happens in your organisation? Where is the emphasis - on the "what", the "how" or both?

Winning is important. But its not the only thing.

What do you think? Please add your comments below.

More information about Doug Long at

Friday, February 8, 2013

Committed to the job?

Last November Gower publishing commissioned me to write a follow up to "Third Generation Leadership and the Locus of Control". Although Third Generation Leadership had only been released in September 2012, the interest in it was sufficient for them to want a "how to" book that showed Third Generation Leadership in action. For the last few months I've been totally engrossed in the new book because I had an end of January deadline if it was to be released this year. I've now sent it to them!

Third Generation Leadership is all about harnessing the energies of people so that they become engaged with their leaders and committed to helping their organisation achieve desired results. I chose to centre the new work around an Australian manufacturing operation of around 350 people (mixture of full-time, part-time, and casual) that, when I first became involved, had a turnover of around $55 million for earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of $1 million and was considering moving its operations off shore in order to remain viable. Two years later, while remaining in Australia and without reducing staff levels or impacting negatively on any entitlements, the company had a turnover of around $70 million for an EBIT of around $11 million. The change had come about by harnessing everyone's energies and creating an environment where people wanted to help the company succeed - they had become engaged with their leaders (and each other) and committed to their company.

While I was working on the book it was sad to see a number of well-known Australian companies continuing a different approach - the traditional one of getting rid of staff in order to improve profitability. Most of the companies that I have observed taking this route are companies that have spoken frequently of the need for employee engagement and commitment. There's a bit of a disconnect here! It started me wondering about whether engagement and commitment really exists across organisations and, if it does, where in the organisation is one most likely to find engagement and commitment and, related to this, to what are most people really committed in the workplace. In answering these questions it seems to me that there are several myths that need to be addressed.

Myth 1 - High pay brings engagement and commitment:
There is a simplistic view that providing very high remuneration packages to CEO's and executives will bring about the level of engagement and commitment necessary to achieve high profitability - those receiving this money will demonstrate high productivity and ensure the success of the company. This is supported by a 2011 study from the University of South Carolina which found a positive correlation between executive remuneration and organisational performance as measured by return on equity. ( ) However another study - done in Australia - considered return on equity, share price change, and change in earnings per share. This study concluded that there was no positive link between high executive pay and company performance - in fact they concluded that ultimately high executive pay levels actually coincides with a lower bottom line. ($FILE/Buck+stops+here.pdf)     

If very high levels of remuneration really do provide high levels of engagement, commitment, productivity and success then why do we find resistance to increasing the remuneration of those at the lower echelons of organisations? If it works for those at the top, why don't the same principles apply for everyone else? After all, without the people at the lower echelons there would be nothing for those at the top - and vice versa - there is a symbiotic relationship between organisational levels. The truth is that high remuneration eventually becomes an end in itself - a status symbol - and that indicates commitment to oneself - not to one's organisation and its long term viability.

Myth 2 -  "Strong" leadership will engender commitment:
There was a time when we didn't talk of 'leadership" as such. Until relatively recently we recognised command and control for what it was and accepted that one's place in the hierarchy determined what say one had in how an organisation was run - we called it "command" and/or "management" and it worked very well. Today we seem to speak almost exclusively of "leadership" yet, in many cases, we are not talking about inspiring people to move forward nor to creating an environment in which everyone can be successful - instead we are really still talking about command and control. Those who exercise this are regaled as "strong" leaders despite the fact that such an approach almost always degenerates into power and control games such as we see daily in politics, business, sport, religion, domestic relations, etc.

The truth is that "strong" leadership discourages true engagement and commitment. "Strong" leadership brings about a situation in which people obey or conform primarily out of fear. In such environments creativity and innovation drop because no-one wants to "rock the boat" - and certainly no-one is prepared to tell the boss that he or she is wrong - even when this is patently obvious.

The organisation that moved from $1million to $11million EBIT in 2 years used a different approach. There the Board and executive worked with their people and that transformed everything.

What has been your experience?

More information about Doug Long at