Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Rex Patrick, accidental senator: The Evolution of Leadership

We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all of the lives we have lost.
Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Tory Shepherd studied anthropology, then travelled, then studied some more, then travelled, then ended up with a cadetship at The Advertiser in 2006. She covered police rounds, politics, general news and health, while working at The Punch on the side. And doing some more travelling and studying. Now Tory is filling in for the other Tory (Maguire) as editor of The Punch. She is passionate about words, wine, chilli, soccer, and people (even the ones who hate her or keep praying for her soul).

Tory Shepherd   is a freelance journalist and writer.

Rex Patrick, accidental senator: 
‘I do cause trouble. But it’s public interest trouble’ Independent senator for South Australia Rex Patrick outside his offices in Parliament House He’s a gadfly, obsessive, a dog with a bone. The bureaucrats who face his relentless grilling might be surprised to know he isn’t always so headstrong

“They’ll say I’m a pain in the arse,” the South Australian senator Rex Patrick declares, when he finds out a profile is in the works.

“And I am.”

That precise phrase does not come up while garnering people’s opinions of Patrick. “Obsessive” comes up a couple of times. “Like a dog with a bone” is repeated. “Highly ambitious,” one observes, wryly.

He is certainly causing the federal government some discomfort at the moment. This month he won a freedom of information battle by arguing that cabinet confidentiality did not extend to prime minister Scott Morrison’s the national cabinet.

He is also on a mission to force the government to reveal secret documents about its negotiations with Timor-Leste. Patrick has been a consistent critic of the federal government’s pursuit of the whistleblower and former spy Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery over their alleged roles in exposing Australia’s bugging of its poorer neighbour.

Why a small group of clinical psychologists is helping journalists with trauma

‘It’s really a tough culture and there can be messaging around almost glorifying that from the top down in ways that aren’t really helpful.’

Kate Crawford, one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars on the social and political implications of artificial intelligence, is being watched. She has arrived at our meeting point outside an anonymous inner-Sydney building before me and, while she waits on the footpath, is twice questioned by people who seem to be security staff.

A woman is the first to come out of the building. Are you meeting someone here, she asks, do you have an appointment? I’m fine, Crawford replies. The woman hovers. A man emerges next. He asks Crawford if there’s anything she needs. She repeats her answer.

By the time I arrive, the staff have left her alone. Crawford, in black boots and leather jacket, directs my attention to a single bulbous black eye, a security camera, high on a wall above us. “The levels of security around this building are absolutely out of this world; let’s see if we get harassed,” she says, striding off to walk its perimeter. It’s only when we turn on to the street behind the building that it becomes clear how massive it is: looming above us is a shimmering, curved facade, perhaps 10 storeys high and stretching a city block into the distance like a beached ocean liner. “Look at that facility, that is vast,” Crawford says.

But the size of the structure is not the only indication of scale. Crawford points out white, orange and pink fluorescent hieroglyphics on the footpath: numbers and letters, lines and symbols, a secret language of the street identifying what lies beneath: gas and water pipes, power and telecommunications lines, fibre-optic cables. “This is huge amounts of data capacity, the kind of grunt for data storage and processing.”

A lot of people are sleepwalking into it’: the expert raising concerns over AI

It’s one of the most profound innovations of our time - and Manhattan-based Australian Kate Crawford wants us to wake up to AI’s inherent risks

The Evolution of Leadership 

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Shakespeare’s quote from Twelfth Night speaks to the station of individuals and its relation to leadership in the political sphere is easy to make: monarchs are born into their rule; warlords and dictators seize power by force and maintain it through intimidation; and democratically appointed leaders are given their positions by the voice of the people.

It is commonly believed that this is a positive progression towards democracy. Concepts like divine right in Europe and the Mandate of Heaven in ancient and imperial China justified the rule of monarchs and emperors, and both are now considered relics of a different era. Tyranny certainly still exists in the world but is regularly derided as immoral. And in our society, this belief in democracy is completely bipartisan.

These three categories of leaders assign differently in the business world: people can be “born” into management by being gifted positions from nepotistic friends and family, while others must fight tooth and nail to prove their value and earn a leadership role. There are also people who are promoted into management roles against their own desires, often because they have demonstrated strong technical capability in their function, but this does not prove their potential as people managers. This issue of being promoted beyond one’s competency is known as the Peter Principle.

Even setting aside the gross ethical issue of nepotism, selecting someone because of their personal connections is obviously not the best method for sourcing high-level talent. A meritocratic system of promotion, one that fully realises the goal of equality with equitable opportunities, will by its nature fill leadership positions with the best available person for the role. Now you might say that our current system is more-or-less meritocratic, in theory if not in practice, but it can’t fully be unless everyone is united in belief of fair equality.

Take the obvious example of women in leadership. Historically and to this day, women have faced discrimination that results in less opportunities to move into leadership roles. But as times have begun to change and more women are in power, they have demonstrated valuable leadership traits that were previously overlooked.

Quality leadership in modern business is less about charisma and more about empathy. It’s not about telling people what to do, how to do it, when to do it by, and cracking the whip when these aren’t being achieved; it’s more often about enabling employees to find better, more effective ways of working, ways that suit the individual’s strengths, rather than sticking to business as usual.

But the important thing this tells us about leadership is that it changes and evolves. In the past, someone could work the same job for 30 years and never have to learn new skills, because the tools and techniques used didn’t change, they had already found the best way to work. Today though, there is some new technology coming out every week, and with the incessant drive for optimisation, there will likely never again be a singular moment where we know the best way of working.

Therefore, it comes down to leaders to guide businesses toward, if not the best way of working, then at least better ways. They need to be agile and strong communicators, confident but self-aware enough to recognise their own weaknesses, committed to supporting their staff rather than just managing them, and resilient to this constant change.

And that’s just what leaders need to be today. It’s impossible to say what they will need to be tomorrow.

A New Approach to Automating Services Magazine: Fall 2016 IssueResearch

 Nadine McBain