Good leaders understand the value of skilfully delivering a strong message. Great leaders know how to do it. Saturday’s Australian Federal Election might have lessons for all leaders – business or political – who rely on effective communication to achieve their goals.
The weekend election concluded a fascinating four-week campaign, where two experienced opponents took contrasting approaches to communicating with their audiences.
History shows that Scott Morrison – or ‘ScoMo’, as he’s successfully been branded – emerged the winner and returned the conservative Coalition to government. After back to back leadership crises, an unprecedented on the ground and social media campaign supported by organisations such as Getup!, and a seemingly endless supply of opinion polls pointing to an Australian Labor Party (ALP) victory, Morrison and the Coalition won the unwinnable election.
We’ll leave the policy discussion to the experts (if there are any left), however on the communication front the Coalition’s strategy and Morrison’s ability to execute delivered in spades.
Much has been made of Morrison’s ability to consistently deliver his message in a way that engaged voters, compared to Bill Shorten’s famously wooden delivery.
Morrison managed to be both repetitive and engaging at the same time. He rarely deviated from his themes, which frustrated some in the media, but he delivered his message with creativity, passion and authenticity.
Shorten was also consistent with his delivery – but at the expense of creativity – and consequently came across as heavily scripted. I don’t think we can doubt Shorten’s sincerity and integrity, but there’s a price to be paid for poor delivery and that hurt him with voters, who either didn’t quite believe him or simply switched off.
For business leaders, the same rules apply. Being across your brief and intimate with your messaging simply isn’t enough. You must be able to engage with and hold an audience, no matter what the platform. These are skills some people are born with but most of us have to, and can, learn.
Bill Clinton’s famous line: “It’s the economy, stupid!” was preceded by an equally memorable ode to communication intelligence: “Keep it simple, stupid!” Whilst the highly tuned political pundits saw political death in the Coalition’s narrow campaign focus, they saw bravery and courage in Labor’s “big target” approach.
However, the punters aren’t political aficionados; even if a crazy-brave policy framework was in the punters’ interests, they won’t vote for it if they don’t understand it.
Labor’s message was multi-headed and somewhat complicated. This doesn’t mean the electorate can’t deal with complex issues, but it does mean those delivering it must be razor sharp with their message. Unfortunately for the ALP, they weren’t.
The Coalition’s tighter message framework delivered an advantage. In the lead up to the election Morrison quite successfully created the impression he had left all the leadership issues behind, in the “Canberra bubble”. He also left all his controversial MPs there as well, or at least sent them back to their constituencies, and focused on the Coalition’s economic record, which was good, if not great.
This blunted Labor’s attacks on the dysfunction and chaos – Morrison simply shrugged off the “chaos” charge off and moved on. Through his attacks on Labor’s tax increases and the unknown costs of its climate policy, Morrison focused the debate on the economy – the Coalition’s strength.
Great campaigners, whether in politics or business, have invested the time and effort to break complex ideas down to simple words or images that are accessible for broad audiences. This is not “dumbing things down”, rather it’s about creating the simple from complex, which is not always easy but can deliver enormous value.
When it comes to communication, those that dismiss style for substance miss an important point. Consumers, investors, voters and lawmakers all have limited time to digest the barrage of information that comes their way.
Morrison’s communication craft, and commitment to tight messaging, were key factors in swinging the electorate his way. Conversely Shorten, stuck with the weaker delivery of a far more complicated set of messages, will go the way of good leaders who never quite became great.