Whichever way one looks at it, Paul Henry’s recent comments asking the Prime Minister whether the next Governor-General is going to “look and sound like a New Zealander” are insulting and racist. It falls way below the mark in his role as a TVNZ breakfast host.
The basic requirement of any job including those in leadership is that we deliver what is expected of that role and take full responsibility for our actions. When managers, leaders and politicians fail to do this, their leadership including the organization’s culture and ethos are – quite rightly – questioned.
Prejudice and stereotypes invariably blind us. Never mind Sir Anand’s background, calibre and merit in having been an almost perfect fit for the job. He is “culturally different” or more to the point “not white.” So everything else becomes irrelevant. This is a not a recipe for building and leading a team, organization or country.
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Here are 8 leadership lessons from this sorry saga
1) Credibility and Integrity
The three fundamental integrity measures an authentic leader must reflect are – ownership, a sense of responsibility and accountability. These are all missing in this case as described below. The “freedom of speech” argument doesn’t hold sway here either as there is a certain obligation and standards which need to be fulfilled in a public or leadership role. Paul Henry has well and truly gone beyond what can be expected of a breakfast TV host. He has wounded hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who pay his salary including those he would class as “not real New Zealanders.”
Having accountability is part of any leader’s role. When a manager condones an employee’s inappropriate and dysfunctional behaviour, both he and the organization lose credibility with their staff and public alike for not doing the right thing and holding the person to account. Likewise, when the executive team condones the behaviour of a senior breakfast host, they are sending out a strong message about their own reputation and set of values. They lose face and further public support. And of course there is no requirement either for the “offender” to make any changes. He knows he has the backing.
3) A genuine apology
Any apology made has to be genuine and sincere. In this instance, again there doesn’t appear to be any real sense of remorse or understanding about the implications of his comments. It is much bigger issue than the standard line of “I am sorry if I have offended the Governor General – blah, blah.” Professor Mitch Kusy after interviewing many Fortune 500 leaders writes in “Breaking the Code of Silence” that any apology will not do. “Without sincerity and careful thought, an apology can do more harm than good.”
If, Sir Anand Satyanand – a born and bred Kiwi with all his credentials doesn’t fit the bill, where does that leave the 22.9% (Census, 2006) and possibly more now – who have made New Zealand home and are making a significant contribution here?
4) Doing the right thing
Be courageous and do the right thing. TVNZ after its initial media release has taken action. See another Tui ad?? A few weeks’ suspension is a painless slap on the knuckles. It’s akin to “now, now – you have been a naughty boy and we will put you in time out for a while.” Given Paul Henry’s history and the gravitas of this particular offence, many feel this is lame action reeking of “until things settle back to normal.”
5) Being seen to do the right thing
During the interview, the Prime Minister, John Key can be forgiven for “being taken by surprise.” He looked slightly uncomfortable. However, it is a good reminder that when confronted with such situations that we see the gravity of the comment for what it is rather than becoming jocular and then looking as if you are condoning or colluding with it. This is not a good leadership look for a PM and relates to the second point above.
6) Be a role model
As a leader and public person, whether you like it or not, you are in a position of being a role model. You are always being judged – who you are – your essence – and how you conduct yourself become paramount. Emotional intelligence (EQ) and wisdom and discernment (I call it spiritual intelligence or SQ) become a call in doing the right thing and for greater good. Comments like Paul Henry’s show no sense of humanity and appreciation of the wider context of the society we live in. Contrast this with the grace, boundless generosity and maturity of Sir Edmund Hilary who naturally excelled at it.
7) Diversity enriches
What makes for great, robust teams in communities and organizations is not sameness but diversity. Research has shown that where there are a diverse opinions and ways of doing things, decision-making can take longer. However, the decisions that get made are more robust and durable because the team has been forced to take the many different viewpoints into account rather than go for the quick, easy “group think” that can arise from too much homogeneity. Cloning in recruitment – employing only those who “look like us” is also a reflection of this issue.
8) Entitlement perpetuates prejudice
Finally, a sense of entitlement – whether with regards to one’s job, perks, looks, place in society is a dangerous thing (more on this in my next blog). Power and privilege can blind us to current realities. The world including NZ has changed. To be part of a successful, vibrant, multicultural and entrepreneurial society, we need to keep up with the times, not hark back to the NZ of the 60’s. We need to foster greater levels of conscious leadership which is able to inspire us all to do better. This does not come from having our heads stuck in the white sands of the past.
Jasbindar Singh is leadership coach, author and speaker. Get in touch today to discuss how Jasbindar can help in your leadership journey or your company get the result you want. She is speaking at Time Convention this year on “Engaging Leadership.” Follow Jasbindar on twitter.