“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” World leaders know only too well that it is events and their reaction to them that shape their legacy.
I’ve recently been in Sydney where, like the rest of the world, I have been struck by the devastation of the Queensland floods. I was also fascinated by the presentation/crisis management skills of the two women in charge, Julia Gillard (Prime Minister) and Anna Bligh (Queensland Premier).
Some people are naturally adept at hitting the right tone in a crisis (think Bill Clinton after Oklahoma or Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster) but, sadly, Julia Gillard is finding it difficult to plug into the national need for empathy and leadership.
Her style has been criticised in a host of ways ranging from “smiling too much and not looking sad enough, through to having a rehearsed and insincere hangdog expression”. This is made worse by the fact that Anna Bligh is receiving high marks for her stoical and natural demeanor.
The difficulty of being a modern politician is that your job demands regular connection with your voting public through the TV and these sorts of crises create a huge challenge to people not used to wearing their heart on their sleeves. It is very difficult to manufacture feelings of sadness and those that do often get it wrong – this is not to say that Prime minister Gillard is not as devastated as the rest of her country but that a key part of her very modern job is to be able to give the voters what they expect when the chips are down.