Bob Hawke’s legacy of authentic leadership

My father is the type of man who loves a good conversation.  He loves people, hearing their stories, hopes, fears and problems.  I grew up in the regional Victorian city of Mildura, and my parents were both very much community stalwarts. Going grocery shopping seemed to take a couple of hours as they’d be chatting to someone in every aisle.

On a Friday night, we’d head for a counter meal at the local pub. It was an opportunity for Mum and Dad to catch up with friends.  As part of my dad’s work in policing, he always thought it was essential to remain connected and approachable with the community. He always encouraged all his officers to do the same.

I’ve been reflecting on dad’s approach to community and people very much lately following a conversation we had about connection. “Everyone is always on their phones these days people, and it’s damaging normal conversation,” he told me.

“Everyone should get off their phones and talk like normal human beings.”

Dad’s from the old school, and we went on to debate how to build up that ‘know, like and trust’ factor necessary for business development.  This morning, on the eve of Australia’s federal election, our conversation went one step further as we discussed the death of former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Dad recalled meeting “Hawkie” during his days as a young policeman in Melbourne.  Hawke held the ACTU’s top job, and along with other union heavyweights would visit the same pub for a beer. He visited Mildura in 1989, with the local police involved in security.

As tributes flow today for Hawke, dad says there are lessons for us all to remember from the Rhodes Scholar, lawyer, politician, unionist, larrikin and even record-holding beer drinker.

“He was just the same in person as he came across in the media,” Dad says. “He always had time for a chat, would drink a beer with you and listen.”

So, what did Dad mean by listen? “He’d get out among the people of Australia, the ones who he knew would either vote him and the ALP in or out, listen and have a conversation.”

Dad went on to tell me to phone his old mate Gus Underwood, a journalist who inspired me to take my career path.

“Ring Gus and ask him his thoughts on Hawk and ask him his thoughts about bloody everyone on their phone all the time while you’re at it.”

Only about two weeks into my first job out of uni, I was sent to an unfamiliar regional Victorian area to fill in for the local journalist who went on holidays.

With no supervision, nervous and wondering where I’d possibly look to find a story, I phoned Dad and Gus who both gave me the same advice – to go and have a beer at the local pub and listen to what people are discussing (I’d call it to eavesdrop). Soon people were introducing themselves to me, sharing their stories and providing great leads to follow-up.

I phoned Gus like Dad told me to do and asked him to share his memories of Hawke. Gus remembers the Hawke days well and is saying what many are saying today, that Australia’s 23rd Prime Minister was a great storyteller.

“He had the common touch and was able to resonate with the majority of Australian people,” he says.

“He had great people skills and was as much at home talking to the Queen as talking to a bloke in the pub.”

While Hawke was well-loved, his career and private life were not without controversy, divorcing his wife Hazel and marrying his biographer Blanche d’Alpuget.
She has said that the intrusive media of today may have rendered the well-known womaniser and drinker unelectable. However, Gus is not so sure.

“He was always sincere and not secretive, he put his cards on the table,” he says.
“He got into strife, and his personal life may have shocked some people, but he didn’t try to hide away.”

In his first term in office, after what would appear a few celebratory drinks when Australia won the America’s Cup yachting trophy, Hawke told the media that any boss who did not give staff the day off was “a bum”.

While the way we communicate may have changed, understanding and knowing your audience has not. Hawke knew how to tell a joke, be compassionate when needed, be true to his convictions. He had a strong mission and vision for Australia, worked hard and there is much discussion today about his legacy.

But perhaps it was Hawke’s ability to be a man of the people and build trust that was his greatest legacy. This trust in Hawke and his policies enabled him to fulfil the legacies people are discussing upon his death, such as forging a path for Australia into the Asia Pacific, advocating for women’s rights, floating the Australian dollar and introducing the Medicare system we have today.

Bob Hawke was an authentic leader. So, what makes you authentically you? What is your mission and vision? What will be your legacy? Bob Hawke and first wife Hazel visit Mildura in 1989. Photo courtesy of Sunraysia Daily

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