Leadership

Leadership Lesson When Silence Doesn’t Work

If you haven’t seen the fiasco that was Tony Abbott, the “leader” of the opposition party, the first week of the return of Parliament you must be living under a rock! Not a great start for Mr. Abbott to say the least and the media have grabbed it and run with it like a hungry pack of wolves! Poor Tony, I’m sure he’d like to have this week back and start again. It’s not that easy for leaders!

It started with Mr. Abbott being filmed making a very inappropriate remark about the death of a soldier in Afghanistan. He has also been heavily criticized for his response to the proposed flood levy, which was lame to be kind. But the main thing that stuck out for me was his choice to remain silent when interviewed on why he made this inappropriate remark in Afghanistan. 

Now to be fair to Mr. Abbott, the media did not portray the whole story and he was filmed from afar. When he was confronted with the situation he did state he would not make comments so as not to worsen it for the family of the deceased. But to simply say nothing? It really did make him look like a goose! It also highlighted a problem with handling a tough situation. There is a lesson to be learned here.

Communication is one of the critical foundations of effective community leadership. Leaders cannot be silent. It simply will not work in their favor regardless of the intent. Mr. Abbott’s intent is unquestionable, however, the perception was otherwise. It would have been a much smarter choice to say something. I mean surely he knew he would be questioned and pressed on the issue. Journalists do not let you off the hook easily. Plan accordingly.

The consequence of this silence is a complete shift in attention from the previously flailing new leadership of Prime Minister Gillard, to the mess of Tony Abbott. All eyes are on him now and people are now looking for him to make a goose of himself. His reputation has been tarnished in a big way. The silence has compounded it.

Leaders, think through your communication regardless of your environment. Understand that saying nothing can compound a bad situation or make a small situation worse. Ensure you are communicating with clarity, consistently. When you are under fire, have a contingency in place. Great leaders never leave anything to chance, and great leaders never shut their mouth unless it is to listen.