Monday, August 27, 2018

Julie Bishop: Gracious and 'glass-cliffed'?

One of my close friends is a former judge for the Children's Book Council of Australia and she once went off at me once for using the verb "incentivise". She won't be happy that I have turned the relatively new notion of "glass cliff" into an adverb. But how did Julie Bishop, a woman described by so many people on all sides of politics as the best foreign minister we've ever had; hugely popular, smart as all get up, gracious, loyal, collaborative and strong enough to own her choice to stand up for what she will and won't tolerate without sweating the small stuff, get up this morning, go for a run and take a seat on the back bench?

Without this commentary necessarily reflecting my own political leanings, she epitomises the balance of progression without aggression. A woman, comfortable in her own skin with nothing more to prove than her desire to do a great job and work hard to do it. She has all the hallmarks of sublime emotional intelligence, particularly 'state' management (even if she can't help looking drawn). We know she is highly intelligent and sees the big picture which is imperative in foreign affairs. She didn't stab anyone in the back and portrays high self-belief like a Serena or any other elite athlete must without the egoistic shenanigans and spite that seemingly dogs all sides of politics because someone took their bat away and they couldn't play cricket anymore. Life is too short for grudges and I doubt she will hold them. 

Julie Bishop has reportedly actively resisted previous invitations to vie for the leadership. Why now? Did she think she had the best chance to beat Mr Shorten? Judging by today's reaction poll and previous ones, she surely did. Did she finally yield to pressure to put her hat in the ring to save the party from a flogging at the next election and the potential for 4-8 years in the political wilderness? Maybe. In the context of timeout and #MeToo, was there ever a better time for Australia to proclaim their preparedness for another woman as PM? Might we get it right this time? We've already talked about her designer suits and her brooches. She doesn't have Michaela Cash's hairdo and we don't seem to find a contorted face photo to plaster all over digital media. People commented on Julia Gillard's weight and ill-fitting suits. Could we have treated her by a worse double standard? Yes, there's always death threats.

The latest scuttlebutt this morning is that some of Julia Bishop's colleagues didn't vote for her because they were worried she couldn't defeat Mr Dutton. Why did they harbour such fears? We learnt about the tone of some of his emails when he sent one to the woman he was 'flaming'. Julie Bishop loves social media but has she ever made such an electronic faux pas? We know about some of Mr. Dutton's personal views when he thought the microphone was off. Whilst admirable as a former policeman, he is as unsociable and non-relatable as Ms Bishop is personable.

We know about the glass ceiling but the glass cliff? Waiting until a situation is so fraught, so risky, so desperate that we think we might as well give a woman the job. Coz, like, it couldn't get much worse. The most cynical manifestation of the phenomenon, actually documented in contemporary research is that if she ends up doing a creditable job in a most difficult context, then great, but if it ends up an epic fail and she falls off or gets pushed off that cliff, no man was harmed in the making of that disaster. Less cynical is the school of thought that says we got to a bad place because certain men messed up so is it time for someone new and fresh? For different thinking, diversity, for a deal maker, for a strategic influencer par excellence maybe? So whether or not, "they" urged her to nominate or she decided to offer a viable alternative to the perceived "insurgents", her numbers belie her public standing and her grace.

Like Malcolm Turnbull she has a strong BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). In negotiation theory, our position is strengthened if we have standby options that are attractive in the event agreement can't be struck. To me, Mr. Turnbull's almost breezy, relaxed performance in his outgoing press conference (AFR subscribers, check my comments here) demonstrates a man with choices. Financial freedom (earned, not given), a rich family life outside politics including a seemingly beautiful marriage. A man who proved his capacity before he got there and will have that after he leaves. So too, Julie Bishop had a distinguished legal career. She's had to face up to the grind, the pressure and the scrutiny of two decades in politics. As foreign minister she had, by her own admission, the best job in the world and in the spirit of some our best footballers, has gone out on her terms before playing on with injuries clouded the impact she had on "the game". It probably didn't occur to the new PM or other cabinet members that the ultimate fallout of this epic saga would be losing one of their best assets.

I imagine Julie Bishop will take some time to think. She will balance emotional and logical factors in her decision - another hallmark of high emotional intelligence. She will most likely write a book. She'll join a speaker's bureau and field numerous requests to chair ASX200 company boards. Perhaps she'll take a role with the United Nations or become a future Federal Human Rights Commissioner or both. While all the events of the past week have been quite fascinating to this organisational psychologist, I can't help but feel sad. Talent in every corner of politics only makes everyone else better. Look at what equalisation has done for AFL football.

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