Fair criticism and fair praise for all leaders

 Controversy stirs difficult memories

By Sue Morphet

November 4, 2020

 We have high expectations of our leaders, in business, the community and public life. Our leaders need to be accountable and perform at their best.

 

In the past week, we have seen the now former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate becoming the subject of a strident public storm which has caused us again to reflect on what fair commentary is. Chief Executive Women has long advocated for representative leadership. In our view that will mean qualified women in senior roles are part of the decisions that affect all our community.

Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate giving evidence to Senate Estimates.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

In exchange, women expect to be assessed by the same standards that are applied to all other leaders, receiving fair opportunity and rewards, respect, fair criticism when it is warranted, and praise based on performance.

Australian company and government leaders get most decisions right most of the time. But sometimes they don’t. The way we react is the community standard to which we all need to be accountable. Every leader in a high-profile role expects to be accountable. Most simply ask that assessment is fair, objective and based on fact, not a social media ‘pile on’ or motivated by a distorted agenda. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, having ‘been there, done that’.

At the beginning of the global financial crisis I was appointed CEO of Pacific Brands, home of much-loved Australian brand Bonds and within months faced the impossible decision to close ten Australian factories, or close the business. With the support of the board and major investors we moved manufacturing offshore. It was tough. Professional criticism was expected. The personal attacks were not and often came from people who knew very little of the financial and operational circumstances in which we were making “least worst” decisions.

The treatment of Christine Holgate has reminded me of that difficult time in my career. The pandemic environment has left many of our leaders worn thin and public fatigue is manifest. But that’s no excuse for denigration and inconsistency. It’s a reason to redouble our efforts to create the society we want for the future.

Australians need strong leaders with proven track records who reflect our community and our expectations. Now more than ever,we expect all leaders to be accountable. In business and public life decision-makers need to acknowledge and back their decisions.

Our challenge is to ensure that leaders are held to account consistently, regardless of who they are.

Leadership is not about vested interests, it’s about fair, balanced and reasonable decisions that take into account performance and outcomes. That’s a business community I, and many other women want to be part of.

Sue Morphet is president of Chief Executive Women.