NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says she would prefer to be competent than popular.
The Premier was talking about leadership and how her own style has evolved since she took over the top job four years ago.
“Before the pandemic, NSW was doing really well, and I flew under the radar. It wasn’t until there was a marked difference in how we did things and through my difference of opinion, that I got noticed.
“I just thought – let’s not look at other people, but let’s do what was best for the state. This is probably the most courageous thing I’ve done in the last 12 months. And I won’t put up with being dismissed anymore.”
“People coming forward to talk about their experience is forcing us to think – am I doing enough? It’s forcing us to check our own house.”
On the subject of courage, the theme of the Future Women Leadership summit, she added: “Courage can come from doing the right thing – I learned about this in the last couple of years. I want to lead like nobody’s watching! I don’t care whether people like me or not – but it’s important to me that people think I’m competent.”
This unstinting focus on just doing a good job is what has led to the glowing praise and gratitude that most women in the room seemed to extend to her, for her handling of the recent crises.
“I just felt enormous empathy [during the bushfires and Covid] thinking about my parents,” she revealed. “I got caught up in thinking about what everybody else is going through. I realised that the way I conveyed my empathy was missing before… empathy makes you approachable. It means you let down your guard a bit more, and build trust with the public.”
“You’ve probably witnessed my leadership change… you evolve as a leader, and you learn from experience. Leadership is never static.”
One approach to leadership she is a big believer of, is to surround herself with people who are capable, knowledgeable and smarter than her. “Remember, leaders and decision makers are not subject matter experts. I’m good at respecting people who are good at what they do, dissect the information they give me and then be decisive about the best way to move forward.
“In a leadership position, it’s not about you, it’s about what you’re doing – whether the audience is shareholders or as in my case, the state.”
Gladys Berejiklian opened up about leadership and courage in her chat with Helen McCabe. Image credit: Mark Broome
There were a few other leadership gems she shared with the audience throughout the chat which undoubtedly provide valuable lessons for anyone on the journey to lead: Do not underestimate your self-worth and the contribution you can make; Everyone makes mistakes, you have to learn how to make things better; Some days are better than others – forgive yourself for less than perfect moments; Stay true to who you are (it’s helped me do my job as best I can and not get carried away); Stay healthy and stay grounded.
Wise words that would hold anyone in good stead – whether they’re dealing with a public scandal, or a tough day in the office.
There’s been no dearth of tough days for her especially in the past year, and her ‘superpower’ that helps her get through them and stay at the top of her game is stamina.
“I have incredible stamina… I think it’s genetic,” she said. “I can keep going and stay fresh.”
She’s also had her fair share of scandals, which her no-nonsense attitude and resilience have helped with surviving. This attitude was reflected in her response to the question on everybody’s minds when she took the stage – her take on the sexual harassment scandal currently rocking Australian politics.
“People coming forward to talk about their experience is forcing us to think – am I doing enough? It’s forcing us to check our own house,” she said. “That’s the best thing we can do, in addition to having the conversation. I haven’t announced this, but I have asked someone qualified to check processes over in our offices. To check if we are doing as much as we can do.
“All workplaces have to be based on respect… a good rule, law or guideline does not replace good culture. It’s difficult to legislate culture. You can legislate right and wrong – but there’s always a grey space,” she added. “If you look at professions that have a majority of women – there’s a different culture. That’s why gender equity is important, there needs to be a critical mass of women. Critical mass is important to culture change.”
“It’s a very difficult circumstance, unprecedented in public life,” she continued. “So I don’t think I’d be able to do anything too differently from what the PM is doing right now.”