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Hide Speech: Political Leadership

Hide Speech: Political Leadership

Rodney Hide Speech to School Leaders Forum, Lincoln University

Thank you for having me along.

I have heard a lot about the course and I think you are very fortunate to be having this course. I have been asked to talk political leadership.

When I was growing up and until quite recently I looked at Government as something that was done to us. And something that we could never do anything about. I would watch all the politicians on TV and think that they are all idiots and why do we put up with it. It never occurred to me that you could become a politician and take part in the political debate in New Zealand at the level of our Parliament. And you can.

That is the great thing about a democracy. So that any one in this room can decide, "Yes, politics is for me, I want to get involved in a political party or I want to become an MP or I want to become a political leader." You can do that. And it is not something that you might think you want to do or you want to do now, but I want you to always remember that in a democracy, almost any one can become a Member of Parliament and a political leader, and, next time you see a politician on TV, you realise what I mean because some of them surprise you that they get elected.

Politicians make the rules

Why is politics important? It is important in a number of ways. One of the first things that our Parliament does is that it makes all the rules that we live under. So whether something is legal or not is decided by our politicians and by our Parliament. Whether you can get locked up for something or not get locked up for it is decided by a bunch of MPs that you have elected to our Parliament. Whether you can smoke marijuana or not smoke marijuana by law is decided by Parliament. Whether the Police have the power to take your car off you because you are a boy racer is decided by Parliament.

So that is a big deal, isn't it? Because Parliament sets a rule that says "If you do this, the state can put you in jail for a year." So the first thing that parliamentarians do is decide the rules by which we live.

Politicians spend money

The second thing that politicians do is that they spend your money. We tax New Zealanders from their income and from their GST and the Government gets that money and they spend it, on fine universities like this, on schools, on hospitals, on welfare and on a whole lot of dopey things that you probably read about in the paper. New Zealand Government spends in a year $50 billion.

I want you to think about that number. Think of a million dollars. Wouldn't that be good to spend? Fifty billion dollars is fifty thousand million dollars. Get elected to Parliament, become the Minister of Finance, become the Prime Minister, you get to spend 50,000 million dollars every year. So there is another incentive.

Politicians make war and make peace

Something else that we should be aware of, given events in Iraq, is that our Parliament, our Government, our politicians - they make decisions to make war or make peace. So our Government has the power to send our soldiers, our navy, what's left of our air force, overseas to fight, to kill and to die. Which is a huge decision to make and that's what our Parliament, our Government and our politicians do. So it is important, isn't it?

I think it is great that we make fun of politicians because it brings them down to earth. They didn't make fun of Saddam Hussein until he was gone so he could get a bit big headed with all the power that he had. But in a democracy, you can make cartoons and make jokes about politicians and keep them grounded, keep them real and laugh at them and the power they have over you. And I think that is a good thing and a healthy thing.

But in that making fun of them we should never forget how important it is. Of making the rules that we live under, of spending all that money that they take from us, and of making crucial decisions to make war or make peace.

Politicians help shape our identity

And there is something else about or political leadership that is important. And that is how in part we identify what it is to be a New Zealander. And like it or not, you will see Helen Clark or Bill English or David Lange or Sir Robert Muldoon and that is our leader, our political leader and a lot of how New Zealanders think of themselves is through that leadership.

So that is what I am actually here to do, to encourage you to be real about politics. Because I look around this room already and I think, "Wow, this is more fun than the people we have in Parliament just now." I would rather be identified with you guys than some of the people that get there. So be successful, study hard, work hard and think about helping shape New Zealand's future in our Parliament.

Political leadership is different

When we think about leadership, we think of business leadership, community leadership, leadership by example, military leadership and then we think of political leadership. And in some ways political leadership is the same as all the other leaderships and in other ways it is a little bit different. Let me talk a little bit about the differences.

Public opinion

The first thing about political leadership is that it is shaped by public opinion. Now you know the polls that say, "Helen Clark is great, Bill English is not", or "Don Brash is great or this contender doesn't rate", whatever it is, it is that public opinion that shapes largely whether people think you are a good leader or not at the time.

That doesn't happen in business. In business it is whether you can do well, cover your costs, make a bit of money for the shareholders. Public opinion is not so important. If you are a military leader, it is whether you can win a battle and conduct yourself well.

But political leadership, because you are relying on votes, is driven by public opinion. And that means a couple of things. We don't always have a true picture of what our politicians are like because we are shaped by the images we see on TV. And the other thing about public opinion is that it is a little bit fickle. I think it is sort of like being a pop star or owning a nice restaurant. You know, this week you are hot and next week you are not. And that happens in political leadership.


The other thing about political leadership is that it is multi-dimensional. How you project yourself on TV is important. But that is not all there is in politics. Because what makes you leader isn't how you perform on TV, it is your caucus colleagues and so you have got to be looking after these MPs that are in your party in Parliament. As an MP you also have to stand up in Parliament and speak in Parliament and know parliamentary procedure - which is not something that you see on TV. You also have to look after the members of the party because they vote too and it is this multi-dimensional role to politics that we often forget.

And then there is another thing about politics which makes it perverse and that is this: whether you are a political leader in the sense of leading your party or not requires and depends upon whether MPs in your caucus voting in support of you.

It is as though being the general depends on the soldiers voting for you. That doesn't work in an army. It doesn't work in a business. It is not the employees who decide the boss. Because they would decide on the boss that would let them skive off all day, wouldn't they? The person that decides the boss is the owner or the shareholders. But in politics it is a bit perverse because whether you are the leader of say the National party or the Labour party is decided by your caucus - your fellow MPs. So you have to look after them, be nice to them. Because if they don't like you, they won't vote for you. If they don't support you, they won't vote for you.

So here is the leader trying to present a team when people around them are saying, "actually, I would quite like your job and I would make a better go of it", and plotting to get enough support in caucus to drop you and put themselves in your place. And you have to be on TV saying, "don't worry, we are united, everyone is on my side". While behind you they are all smouldering away, thinking: "Goodness, our leader is useless, can't wait to get rid of them". And the leader is standing there thinking "I know they have got the knife out for me". Your team is a bit, by the nature of politics, factionalised.

Some of Helen Clark's closest supporters now were plotting to get rid of her before she was Prime Minister. And so that adds an interesting dimension to political leadership.

Public opinion is divided

Political leadership relies on public opinion, but public opinion is divided. It is divided on all the things that we debate and discuss in Parliament. So my view, and my party's view, is that the Government should spend less and tax less. There are many New Zealanders who think government should tax more and spend more.

And so there is a natural divide that exists in a society, and a legitimate political debate. There has been a huge debate in New Zealand about whether we should be supporting the Americans in Iraq or not. There is a huge debate about what the rules should be about marijuana. And so, interestingly, you can imagine a situation where a person is a fabulous leader, but you don't like them because the things that they advocate, you disagree with.

And so that is another feature of political leadership: the fact that we have a legitimate political debate, a philosophical difference about how we think things should be done and again it is a wonderful thing, because we have a democratic process to resolve these differences.

I like picking on Iraq because it is in the news, but the Iraqis weren't divided politically, because I think if you disagreed with Mr Hussein, he just got rid of you, so he could get 99.1% of the vote.


So what are the things that are important in political leadership? The first is courage. Courage is very, very important. And full marks to Helen Clark because she is courageous. And I think of a few negative points for Bill English, because in my view, he isn't. And by courage I mean this: You say what you believe, you state what you are going to do and you take the consequences.

And it is a tension between worrying about public opinion and taking action. You know those jokes they have on TV about political leaders and they say, "this is what we are going to do", and then they say "But oh, the voters won't like that". "Oh, OK, we're not going to do that, we're going to do this." And we don't want that style of political leadership.

We want a leadership that says, yes, listen to what New Zealanders are saying, but having listened, decide what we are going to do, state what you are going to do, and follow it through. And that takes a very rare form of courage.

Because what I notice with leadership and politicians is that they make a decision, and then the knockers naturally come out and the easiest thing in the world is say "Oh, that's all wrong", and change. But if you think about it, that is not leadership, is it? That's like following a mob down the road that is veering all over the place and I think it takes an extraordinary courage to be a political leader because they stand up for what they believe in, they say what they are going to do, and public opinion can go against them. And they get to be terribly lampooned. And most of us want to just be liked by everyone and try and be nice to everyone, but every now and again you actually have to say, "Now this is what I believe in", and that is what I think leadership is all about.

And I think that is true for anyone - whether you are a community leader, a business leader, a military leader, a leader in your school - it takes courage. The easiest thing in the world is to stay back with the group, and it is easier still just to complain about the leaders. But it takes guts to stand up and be a leader in any field.

Work and proficiency

The second thing that I think is important about being a good leader is to work. To work at what you do, and to be proficient at what you do. To do it well. We don't want slobs running the country. We don't want to follow someone who is lazy. We don't want to follow someone, whatever field it is in, who doesn't know what they are doing.

So if you want to be a good leader, you need to work at it, you need to work at the job, you need to be good at the job. And that is in every one of us. I don't buy this argument that people are born great at something. People work at it. My observation of politics and business and other forms of leadership is that the people that are best at it are the ones who often have had to work the hardest, because they value it, they strive towards it, and they get better and better. The ones that have the bit of natural ability tend not to work hard enough at it. And so I think working, striving and getting proficient at your job is very important in leadership.

Believe in yourself

Here is another one: Know yourself. Think about yourself. Understand yourself. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses. Use your strengths, build on them, overcome your weaknesses. You might be able to overcome your weakness yourself. You are not going to believe this, but I used to be shy. I have over-compensated now. Nothing used to terrify me more than coming in to a group like this to speak. I thought this is a bit silly. So I worked on it and I overcame it. Other weaknesses that people have, they can't compensate for themselves, but you can get people to help you. I'm a lousy manager, not good at managing. So I have a secretary who is a fantastic manager, and she helps me manage things. That is a very important thing about leadership: know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses - and overcome the weaknesses.

And be yourself. So often, people like to pretend they are something else. It is phoney. Everyone around you identifies it as phoney and the funny thing about politics is that even in a couple of minutes on TV you can get a sense that this person is not really thinking that or liking that. Because that person isn't courageous enough simply to be themselves. So I think it is important to be yourself. And there is another thing that relates to that. To believe in yourself. To believe in what you are, and to believe in what you can become.

Life isn't a series of accidents. Accidents happen but a person's life is a series of decisions that they make. And so if you believe in yourself and believe in what you can become, then you can get there. You can't get there just by lying back on the beach and saying, "Gee whizz, I hope an accident happens and somehow by chance I end up there." No, it doesn't work like that. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in yourself, what you can become.

Make good decisions at the right time

I didn't put these in any particular order. But this is a funny one. The older I have got, the more important this has got. It is making good decisions. Yes, that is logical. But making good decisions at the right time. This is unbelievable in politics. People make bad decisions, but that is often a matter of debate.

But they make them at a bad time in this sense. There are some decisions that confront you in life, whether in politics or in business, that you have to make in the next minute. There are some decisions you don't have to make for a week. There are other decisions that you don't have to make until next year. That is logical, isn't it? Think about your life. There are decisions like that.

And here's what I notice about poor politicians and poor leaders. The decision that they have to make in the next minute, they don't. And a decision that they have to make in the next month, they make in a minute. How silly and stupid is that? And there is nothing sillier than having to make a decision in the next minute and failing to do so. So, "I have to decide this in the next minute, but I can't". Well, that is a decision that you are going to lose.

And there is another thing about tough decisions that are hanging over you in the next month. "I will get this over with and make it now". That is stupid too. One of the first things, when making a decision, is to ask yourself, "When am I going to decide this?" And if you logically conclude it is going to be made in the next minute, then get what you can in the minute and make the decision. If you figure you've got a month, then use that month, think about it. Get more information, consult people, ask around, sleep on it. By all means make good decisions, that's our goal, but make them in a timely way.

Take responsibility

And here is truth about life. Truth about doing well, and the truth about leadership: Take responsibility. In fact, that is the definition of leadership. People who don't take responsibility aren't leaders. People who don't take responsibility for what they do, aren't successful human beings. But leaders take responsibility for what happens.

Of course there is a hundred and one reasons why something not turning out isn't your responsibility. We have all heard them when we were kids, talking to our parents. "Wasn't me! It just sort of fell! I didn't realise! It was him! They made me do it! The guy before me did that!"

We can all do that, can't we? But if you do, you are going to remain a child, not an adult, and when did you ever hear a leader that you admire not accept responsibility? And so, accepting responsibility is important as an individual, but it is very important as a leader. And the amazing thing happens that if you are a person who learns to accept responsibility, you are a person that people will see as a leader. And the amazing thing is that if you learn to become a person that accepts responsibility, you will end up a person that does something about it. And makes, therefore, the world a better place. The people who blame other people don't help the world much, if at all. The people that accept responsibility for what is going on and so do something about it, are the doers, are the movers, are the shakers, are the leaders, are the good people that make the place a better place to be.

There is a corollary and it is this: Decisions have consequences. The things that we do have consequences. And so leaders need to be thinking in terms of cause and effect. I did this. We moved that. This happened. It is not a series of accidents, it is not random, it didn't just become that way. This decision was made, this was moved, that was shifted, that was changed, we did this, I did that. This is what happened. So, leaders think in terms of cause and effect. Before they make a decision they say, "what will be the consequence of this?" Is it a consequence that we like? Is it a consequence that is true, that will result from that decision? And so thinking in cause-and-effect terms enables people who want to lead, whether in business, or in military, in the community or in school, to take responsibility. How many times have we seen kids just make a decision because it felt right? Seemed like a good idea at the time. Didn't think it through. Is that the sort of person you want to follow? No. "Why did you do that for goodness sake?" "Oh, um, it felt good." "Didn't you think it through?" "No, no, it just seemed like a good idea at the time." "Why did you do this?" "Oh well, they told me to." "Didn't you think it through?" "No". Do you want to follow a person like that? Do you want a person like that to be responsible for you? No. So leaders take responsibility and think in cause and effect terms.

I would like to end the formal part of my speech by asking you to think about this. You live in truly the greatest country in the world. Nice small country, where we know each other. Where we feel close to each other. Does that mean that we have no problems? Of course not. We're surrounded by problems. But we are surrounded by so much opportunity. And I ask you to think of the opportunities that you have, and to use them and your talents in the best way that you can for yourself, for your family, and also for your country. And in the years ahead, don't rule out ever becoming a political leader or a parliamentarian, because it is important, what politicians do. And you don't want to always leave it up to other people, do you? I don't think so. Thank you very much.

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