17.11.20

Why our community leaders need to understand their responsibility

Hot off the press of Chef Pete Evans’s fall from grace, and the same day that Channel 9 CEO Hugh Marks tendered his resignation, I just wonder if our ‘community’ leaders understand just how important it is to act legally, morally and ethically. And, responsibly. 

Just think back to earlier this year, when the CEO of Australia’s peak body for travel agents, Jayson Westbury, has resigned after he viciously attacked A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw, saying she “needs to be given a firm uppercut or a slap across the face”. 

Let’s unpack how and why things like this happen, and how leaders get to the point that they think they are above demonstrating behaviour that most of the population would expect of them. And, let’s unpack them from the perspective of statements (made by leaders), symbols (behaviours of leaders) and support (for our leaders).

Firstly, Jayson Westbury’s statements were totally out of line. When did it become alright to talk about hitting females … “In a media release sent out by AFTA, the peak body said: “Mr Westbury’s resignation is effective immediately and follows his recent comments directed at A Current Affair’s Tracy Grimshaw” (credit: nine.com.au). “His choice of words cannot be condoned”.

Learning 1: Your people, your teams, and the public will hear you (and hear every word)

As a leader, what you say will be scrutinised, it will be quoted and it will be put out there for all to see and hear. Knowing that, choosing your words carefully is an important aspect of leadership. I am still amazed at how many leaders don’t understand the impact that their words, their statements have on others. Say the wrong thing, and cause harm to another human, and they will forever remember it. For leaders, the careful choice of words is critical, and it demonstrates a high care factor your audience. Choose your words wisely.

Secondly, Pete Evans pleaded ignorance, when he posted a Nazi symbol, and later posted that he didn’t understand it’s relevance. “Sincere apologies to anyone who misinterpreted a previous post of a caterpillar and a butterfly having a chat over a drink and perceived that I was promoting hatred,” Evans wrote (credit: sbs.com.au). 

Learning 2: It is not what you say, but what you do that you will be judged by

As a leader, it is not even what you say, that people will remember. It is what you do, and how you do it. Pete Evans didn’t even comment on the Nazi symbol – he didn’t need to – he posted it. You see, how you behave as a leader, particularly when in the public eye, is not the most important thing you need to consider, it is the ONLY thing. Eyes are on you all the time, and if you choose to be a public personality, you need to behave like one, and like someone who cares for people, and their feelings and beliefs. Inappropriate symbols are the quickest way to violate the beliefs of the public, and in this case, the cost to Pete Evans would have been significant, with every major brand distancing themselves. And, ignorance is not an excuse. If you don’t know what it means, don’t post it, or don’t use it.

Thirdly, Channel 9 CEO Hugh Marks resigned yesterday (effective in 2021). “His sudden departure comes as scrutiny over his personal relationships with his staffers has intensified in recent days.”  This is actually a case of a loss of support for a CEO, and a Board and Chairman who took action over what was seen to be an inappropriate relationship that Marks was involved in (credit: news.com.au). Great work, Channel 9, take a stand and demonstrate what is important, from a support perspective, and what types of behaviour you support, and don’t support!

Learning 3: People respect positions, but they trust people

As a leader, you need to support your teams and your team members (that is your job really). One of the quickest ways to lose support, is to have ‘inappropriate personal relationships’ (whether real or perceived). That is because inappropriate relationships generally come with a level of conflict of interest (hence the word inappropriate). And, you need to earn the support (aka trust) of everyone in your business, from the very top to the very bottom. In a senior role, you will get respect, because of your job title, but that does not guarantee people’s support. Your people will not totally and utterly believe in you, and follow you through thick and thin, if they don’t trust you to do the right thing, by them … and by you. Losing the support of your business is done quickly, gaining it takes a very long time.

Strong leadership is about psychological safety (caring for others). Remember, leadership is a verb.

And, don’t get me started on Ellen … that might be the topic of another blog post.


Anton Guinea is the safety leadership expert. His journey is unique, having survived a workplace incident which he transformed from a cautionary story into powerful, psychology-based safety programs that has moved the hearts and minds of organisations globally. 
For 15 years, Anton has worked with over 150+ businesses and their leaders, to help make safety safe; safe to talk about, to engage in, and to report about. Working in the space of where Safety meets Leadership, Anton founded The Guinea Group as the safety support network to help businesses to LEADsafe365.
Get in touch with Anton today.

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