On Marriage Equality and Representative Democracy

Rainbow FlagOn this blog, we don’t tend to get political. There are plenty of people out there already writing about politics for a start, and we want to encourage everyone to develop as leaders and follow their passions regardless of their personal views. Sometimes though, a political story transcends politics to teach us some significant leadership lessons.

A few days ago, as I’m sure you’ve seen, the current coalition government of Australia decided not to allow their MPs a free vote on same-sex marriage. This means that if a vote does occur in this parliament, any MP who represents either of those parties will be obliged to vote against the right of individuals to marry a partner who identifies as the same gender. Whether they personally agree with it or not.

In a representative democracy governments will always legislate according to their own policies, we elect them to make those calls and are given the opportunity every few years to kick them out if we don’t agree with them. Does our government provide constituents with sufficient voice, given that surveys have indicated that support for marriage equality across Australia is sitting at around 70%? Wouldn’t a plebiscite in this term of government be an appropriate option?

My personal view, and one that is apparently shared by around 70% of Australians, is that someone in a modern, forward-thinking egalitarian society should be able to marry someone who identifies with any gender or none if that’s what they want to do. My sister lives in a country where same-sex marriage is legal and was able to marry her long-term partner (who happens to be female) a few years ago – it was a great day and she is visibly happier and healthier being able to live an authentic life as a result. This blog isn’t here to try to persuade you on marriage equality – you hold your views and I hold mine – I’m fine with that.

It’s OK that governments don’t consult the public on every decision – 70% have our chance in a year or so to change to a government that agrees with us on this. However, is it okay to not allow their individual MPs to vote for themselves or to truly represent their constituents?

Leaders fall broadly into two fields – those who try to persuade people of their point of view, and those who try to represent the point of view of the people. It is very easy to interpret the government’s action as an act of infantilising and neutering their own teams. If so, leaders run the risk of demonstrating both a lack of conviction in their own beliefs and their ability to persuade others to get behind them, and an unwillingness to lead on behalf of people who personally disagree with them. No wonder public trust for politicians is low – if you as a leader don’t trust the people around you to be able to make the right call, how can you expect others to?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter – please leave a comment if you have something to say!

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Just Shut Up and Listen!

The 2014 Student SenateA couple of days ago, I was asked to chat to the 2014 FedUni Student Senate about the Leadership Program, and how we can support them to carry out their new roles most effectively. As part of that, I gave them my top leadership tips, which included: not being able to do everything alone and building relationships with the network of other student leaders around campus.
My final tip, upon reflection, fit conveniently into both of the other two: Listening.

On the radio on the way home a few days ago, I heard a great quote:
“These days, we spend most of our time waiting for the other person to finish talking”.

This sums up a lot of what I think about human interaction in general and people’s conceptions of leadership in particular. We rarely take the time to listen selflessly and agenda-free to someone else, asking questions to prompt them and being comfortable with natural pauses in speech. In general I like to think before I speak, but often I find myself interrupting others in my haste to agree with, differ from or add to what they have to say.

It would be pretty lazy and facile of me to blame this purely on Social Media, but it, or rather any communications technology advance, probably contributes. In a world where we’re encouraged to ‘talk’ in 140 characters or less, and where comments are instant and expected, have we lost the art of listening? Often when reading the news online, I reach the comments section and the first comment is irrelevant, from someone who has clearly not even read the article but looked at the headline and just wanted to be first in. I see this reflected in conversations – have you ever spoken to someone who replies with something pretty unrelated? They’ve probably just been listening for key words, and thinking about their own response – the speech version of just skimming the headlines.

Listening

Maybe it’s just human nature, and nothing to do with technology? Are we just hard-wired to care about ourselves more than others?

I’m not generally one to hark back to the ‘good old days’, but I think we need to reclaim the attention-span, rein in the ego and start listening again. If you don’t listen to someone (and I mean genuinely listen – taking time out, shutting up and concentrating) you haven’t earned the right to speak on their behalf. How can you represent someone with honesty and integrity if you don’t know what they care about, or if you try to impose your own agenda on them?

Something I think all elected bodies could do with remembering (Profound soundbite warning):

You may be the voice of [the student body/your constituency/a generation], but you are also their ears…

Do you agree that listening is so important in Leadership?

Is listening really a dying art? If anyone has some stats or studies on optimal active listening times and how they’ve changed over time I would genuinely love to see them.

What problems are there with adopting a “He who shouts loudest…” model within organisations?

Do you have any practical tips on developing listening skills?

Please feel free to share!

– Luke