Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Popularity is overrated!

As a keen student of Australian politics I have noticed a subtle change - and I kind of like it. Polls have come out in recent times suggesting the current government is not popular, and one poll came out this week and actually suggested the opposition leader is more popular than the PM. Of course the media salivate over every poll, and spend an inordinate amount of time asking politicians all sorts of questions about the polls. And the standard responses we hear from politicians are predictable and dull - “The only poll that counts is election day.”, and “Of course we are listening to the concerns of the Australian people.” etc.
What I have noticed in recent times are a new series of responses from the Prime Minister and her ministers that go a little like this - “We don’t really care about the polls. We are actually trying to do some difficult and important things. We want to get them right. There is a lot of popularist noisy opposition, but we are going to do what we believe to be the right thing, whether it is popular or not”. I kind of like that approach to leadership. I am not sure if I agree or not with the policies, but there is something refreshing when leaders say that they want to do what they think is right - not just what they think will make them popular.
Think of all the things in Australia, that at the time, popular opinion was opposed to, but in the end did turn out to be a real benefit. From the building of the Sydney Opera House to the introduction of a universal health system, to the introduction of a GST, to the welcoming of thousands of Indo-Chinese boat people in the Seventies, to the purchase of Blue Poles, to the floating of the Australian Dollar, we find a list of unpopular policies that history has judged very favourably. Now of course, we can all then list off a range of unpopular policies which did turn out to be a disaster, but still, leadership should be about leadership, and not just doing the things that will make us popular.

Great CEOs are not always universally liked. Teenagers are not designed to agree with their parents all the time, that is, if the parents are actually doing a good job.

Preachers are not called to always be popular or they have lost their prophetic edge. 

Even Jesus did not lead his followers by consensus. In fact, one famous time when he told his disciples that he had to suffer and die, one of them took his leader aside and told him in no uncertain terms that Jesus was losing their support. Jesus’ reaction to Peter showed little regard for the disciple’s polling.  

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”” Matthew 16:23
In the end we will get the chance to vote on our politicians, but I for one would rather they lead than follow. 

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