What was the Premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell Thinking?

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Events in the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that began to unfold with the appearance of the New South Wales State Premier on Tuesday and ended up with Barry O’Farrell resigning his position as Premier of New South Wales on Wednesday morning provides both the State and Federal Liberal Party with a leadership dilemma and all of us as leaders and managers with some interesting observations to ponder along with some key learning.

On one hand for a leader in such a critical position appearing before a highly visible body such as ICAC there is a remarkable level of naivety. The dictionary describes naivety as a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement.  In the Premier’s case was it a lack or a lapse?  Whichever it was, given the circumstances of his appearance at ICAC, it seems that as a leader he was not fully prepared.  He had not fully assessed nor appreciated the consequences and the risks; if he did receive advice from those around him, did he apply his own wisdom and judgement to the advice offered?

On the other hand, as a leader he has to be acknowledged for his honesty, integrity, accountability and courage.  Barry O’Farrell’s ownership of this situation is a breath of ‘fresh air’ because over the past decade so many of our political and business leaders have failed to be unequivocally accountable for their actions.  His resignation is indeed unfortunate for him and his family as he paid the ultimate price; however, he has also provided us with some very valuable lessons that as leaders and managers we can all draw upon.

People will no doubt draw their own lessons; here are some that we have drawn from watching the leadership situation evolve to this point:

  • The importance of having clear Core Values.  Values are core unshakeable principles about “something” which is important to us.  They are the signposts that guide our interactions and behaviour.

Core Values do not change in response to fads or trends, shift in response to changing conditions or are compromised for financial gain or short-term expediency.

Most important of all, you hold true to this value even if it means it disadvantages or penalises you.  It seems pretty clear that two of Barry O’Farrell’s Core Values are honesty and accountability. Are we all clear on our Core Values?

  • As leaders and managers allowing adequate preparation time in any circumstance is essential, particularly fully exploring the consequences of actions we are about to take.
  • Mitigate risk to the best of your ability. If as a leader and manager, you assess that there is a high probability that an outcome will occur and it will have high impact then you need to have a range of considered response options from which to choose should the situation eventuate.
  • As leaders and managers when faced with challenging situations we need to be willing to seek out the best quality advice possible by consulting with those around us and be prepared to act on it.
  • Reliance on our own skill, judgement and intuition.  Even with the best quality of advice and assessment of a situation, and even when under pressure do not shut down your ‘gut instinct”.
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