Leaders say no: Kevin Rudd and the UN Secretary General nomination

The problem: Turnbull didn’t say no

The recent chronicles of Kevin Rudd and his pursuit for the United Nations Secretary-General sparked debate from Australian political commentators. Kevin Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister, formally petitioned for the Australian Government to nominate him for the UN role. After consideration in cabinet, Malcolm Turnbull stated his government would not nominate Rudd. Despite this, Rudd claims Turnbull encouraged his nomination behind the scenes. The question from Paul Murray, and indeed me, is “Why did the government keep encouraging him?”

Rudd says Turnbull a 'brick wall' on the UN bid

This question is an important one in leadership, if Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t going to nominate Rudd, why was there encouragement? The fact of the matter was that, one of the hardest statements to say as a leader is ‘no’; but sometimes we need to. If Turnbull said no earlier, it is unlikely we would be seeing the same issues now.

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes” – Tony Blair.

What this means for leaders

Charismatic leaders never fear using the word ‘no’ when someone or something is going against the core goals they have established. For Turnbull, a stable majority government appears somewhat divided after a 10-11 split on the motion to nominate Rudd. Now that the damage is done, Malcolm has made a more vocal enemy. Rudd’s hopes were raised before Turnbull cut his legs from beneath him. The point about Rudd’s competence for the role is hardly important when he has a national stage to vent his frustrations.

At the moment, Facebook’s fourth most trending topic is Kevin Rudd, ahead of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s recent cash rate cut. So, the message has come across quite poorly for Turnbull, and possibly resulted in a tumble in his already turbulent government. Senator Eric Abetz states former colleagues title Rudd a narcissist, micro-manager, control freak, and psychopath. But Rudd’s ability to attract media attention is far outweighing that of Malcolm at present, attacking the Prime Minister’s character.

Facebook Trending Kevin Rudd

The leadership lesson

What we can take from this is that leaders need to be able to say no. For one, they cannot do everything themselves, and their followers will respect them more for their ability to take a moral high ground and effectively communicate the reasons for saying no instead of the preferable yes. There are a few ways to say this without losing support. Explain the reasoning, for one. Consider using phrases like ‘let’s explore’ or ‘what if’ as alternatives.

There is no point overburdening yourself as a leader by being a simple yes man. We remember the Jim Carrey film ‘Yes Man’ where the main character said yes to everything, only to realise that yes isn’t always the best thing to say. Don’t religiously say no, but also don’t be a yes man either!

Image by Eva Rinaldi.