When it comes to leadership mistakes, former Prime Minister John Howard yesterday joked to Cass Charlesworth, his biggest was a shoddy cricket bowl against the Pakistani army in Kashmir.
The infamous 2005 footage of the then PM’s bowling attempt has haunted the cricket tragic ever since; but, according to Mr Howard, the true test of leadership is learning not to repeat the same mistake again.
This was just one insight into leadership offered by Mr Howard when he headlined the Ray White Connect 2018 conference on the Gold Coast on Monday as part of a two-day event drawing over 2,500 agents.
As Australia’s second longest-serving Prime Minister, Mr Howard reflected leadership was often a term thrown around with abandon but important to every aspect of life. And effective leadership came down to a series of key elements.
“Far and away the most important thing for a leader to succeed is for them to believe in something,” he said.
“Strong beliefs, strong values and a clear and consistent view into where you want to take a business, a political party, an army or a country is important.
“Let people know what you believe in. Always let employees know where you want to take the company. A clear set of values and attitudes is fundamental.
“The second most important thing in leadership is the relationship you have as a leader with the public and the people you immediately lead.
“Understand from the very beginning that you are going to make mistakes. The person who resolves never to make a mistake will be a total failure. The most important thing is to get the big things right.”
Meanwhile, he noted the value of listening to instinct.
“There will be occasions in your career where you want to make a decision that you believe in your heart is right.
“I took a number of decisions in my time that were unpopular, like committing troops to Iraq, and that decision remains unpopular to this day.
“My instinct was, in terms of our relationship with the United States, it was an important thing to do.
“That is one of the most difficult parts of leadership – to get the balance right between listening and leading.”
Mr Howard, whose government boasted 3.6 per cent growth per annum during his time in office, said the current interest rates were the lowest in living memory.
“I’m older than most of you (at age 79) and low rates are good for some people but not all,” Mr Howard said.
“For a buyer they are advantageous, but if you’re living off your savings it makes a big difference.
“In many ways, we are living in a different economic climate after the Global Financial Crisis.
“I am an unreformed believer in competitive capitalism, in that I aspire for people to make a lot of money and pay their taxes. I don’t believe in envy taxes.
“There are gaps between the rich and the poor; some people need a safety net, but the gap is less marked in this country as it is in other countries.
“We have a much larger middle class and private home ownership which is much higher, much earlier. Your industry should be very proud of that.
“We will always have the challenge of economic change and economic reform.
“Keep striving towards the finishing line, but keep running or else your competitors will surge past you.
“I remain optimistic about the future of this country. I really am delighted to be in the company of 2,500 competitive capitalists here today who believe very strongly in the free enterprise system where you get to keep a decent return from your hard work. Long may you continue to do so.”