Newspapers quoted from the speech admiringly, and I had the impression that the speech was a repudiation of old-school authoritarian leadership in favour of a more modern, progressive style. I was keen to read the speech and understand exactly what Richard Goyder had in mind.
Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the speech falls apart.
The speech is not, in fact, a repudiation of God-style leadership at all. It turns out that when Goyder speaks of God-style leaders he is being neither ironic nor self-critical. Indeed, he refers admiringly to leaders such as John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and of course, the great Australian General John Monash himself.
Rather, the speech is making the case that even though “sometimes we hanker for God-leaders…” we can’t have them in this modern world. And this is not because modern leaders are mediocre or second-rate, but rather because historical circumstances have made inspirational leadership impossible.
Goyder takes us on a meander through the reasons why great leadership is no longer a realistic aim. He says that arguably leadership can be easy in a ‘crisis’ (I guess it’s a case of lucky old Churchill with his Second World War) or with a ‘burning platform’ (perhaps apartheid was a gift to Mandela). He also says our expectations of our political leaders are too high, and this is partly the fault of the politicians themselves who set those outsize expectations (here he cites Obama) and partly because of “the difficulty of achieving long term reform” (I presume Godyer is saying that it’s harder now than it used to be to get things done – an entirely arguable proposition).
Goyder then finds another stream of argument and suggests that God-leadership is impossible because, “In a world where most of us are empowered individually - with information, education and a ballot box, that is – it is very difficult for leaders to lead just by being persuasive and eloquent although that can be important…. the reality is that we all have an increased leadership role.” He goes on later in the speech to say, “We are all leaders and leaders of the future, and each of us can make a difference.”
In the great equalisation that Goyder portrays, I wondered whether he was leading up to the logical final conclusion that if we can no longer demand God-like leadership from corporate CEOs, then corporate leaders should no longer expect God-like salaries from their shareholders, but alas, no.
Instead he describes his own leadership style with modest self-admiration. He portrays his longevity as a virtue, his ego-free style as a boon to his underlings who are all encouraged to challenge him, and his determination to “be myself”.
The success of a speech can only be measured against the goal it sets itself. I guess if Goyder, a very senior Australian corporate leader, was hoping to convince his audience to downgrade its hopes and expections of Australia's modern leaders, then through his own words he succeeded all too well.