Bob Hawke's Wife on Leadership

Last Updated Sep 14, 2010 7:52 PM EDT

The Australian writer, Blanche d'Alpuget, has recently published a new biography, Hawke, The Prime Minister. As part of the promotional tour she recently spoke on Political Leadership at The Sydney Institute. As a novelist and the present wife of Bob Hawke, Blanche offered some fascinating insights on what makes a successful leader. In the book, she contrasts the personalities of Hawke and Paul Keating. There has been considerable criticism of her approach, but I think her comments are perceptive. She picks out a major weakness of Keating, namely his introversion. Few commentators have made that comment about him. By contrast, Hawke is the extrovert's extrovert. Even at 80 he still has phenomenal energy, which is a necessary trait of the successful leader. It also makes him emotional which some have characterised as weakness but in fact is a hidden strength.

Her Sydney Institute talk is on iTunes and is worth hearing. She begins by drawing on her novelist background and saying that successful politicians are warriors. They have to win, and they never give in. Both Hawke and Keating had this trait in spades, and this was a major emotional force between their battles during the 1980s and still accounts for the continuous tension between them.

Her first meeting with Hawke was typical. It was at a holiday home in Bali where the guests were playing table tennis. Hawke, even though he was nursing an injured Achilles tendon, played on till 4am not going to bed until he had beaten everyone.

According to Blanche the other key trait of a leader is narcissism. Few modern commentators on leadership ever discuss this trait. However, Blanche argued that if a person does not have high self-regard, he or she will not achieve success as a leader. Someone asked if this is a characteristic developed while the leader is in power. Blanche was adamant that it is the opposite. Successful leaders start out in life with a very high opinion of themselves and that is a major reason why they achieve.

In The Humm Handbook I write about the three emotional traits of the successful leader and I make particular reference to Bob Hawke. I don't know Hawke as intimately as Blanche, but I was very pleased to see that my three traits were the same as hers. Great leaders have the three traits of Movers, Politicians and Hustlers. They are energetic, competitive and self-interested.