How the coronavirus pandemic is (finally) resulting in leadership for the greater good

Friday 24 April 2020

Image of Scott Morrison

In summary

Analysis for The Conversation by Dr Sam Wilson, Dr Jason Pallant, Ms Sylvia T Gray and Dr Timothy Bednall, Swinburne University of Technology

In the space of six weeks, the threat posed by COVID-19 and the sudden absence of partisanship from the political landscape have ushered in a focus on leadership for the greater good, the likes of which we haven’t seen for years.

Leadership for the greater good occurs when leaders create value for society in a manner that is transparent, accountable and ethical. Once conspicuous by its absence, it now seems to be everywhere, and gratifyingly so in the institutions where it counts most.

Our survey process

As an extension of our Australian Leadership Index (ALI) - a long-running survey to gauge public perceptions of leadership for the greater good - we have asked Australians over the past five weeks to judge the performance of various institutions during the current pandemic.

Each institution receives a score based on the number of people who said the institution showed leadership to a “large extent” or “extremely large extent”, minus those who responded “some extent” or “not at all”.

Notably, by taking the pulse of Australians weekly, we can track how public opinion is changing. When these findings are compared to our wider survey results, which we have been collecting quarterly since September 2018, the results are striking.

The ascent of leadership for the greater good

Prior to the pandemic, the public had a dim view of the state of leadership in Australia. This has been consistent from September 2018 to March 2020.

However, in the week of March 13-19, in specific response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public sentiment entered positive territory (+1) for the first time in a year and a half. Even more striking, these perceptions have improved week-on-week to a score of +34 in the week of April 15-22.

Perceptions of leadership for the greater good in times of peace and pandemic

Australian Leadership Index (ALI) score for Australian organisations and institutions, September 2018 to April 2020.

Image of ALI graph 1

Note: This chart shows the ALI score of Australians who think that Australian organisations and institutions, in general, show ‘leadership for the greater good’ to a ‘fairly large extent’ or ‘extremely large extent’ compared to Australians who think ‘not at all’ or ‘only to some extent’.
The ALI scores between September 2018 and March 2020 are calculated from a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Australians.
The ALI scores between March 19, 2020 and April 15, 2020 are calculated from a national sample of 300 people per week.

The 1,500 people surveyed between March 19, 2020 and April 15, 2020 constitutes a nationally representative sample.

Source: Australian Leadership Index

What a difference a(nother) crisis makes

The improvement in public perceptions is most remarkable for the federal government, particularly in light of the recent bushfire crisis.

Throughout the bushfires, the public consistently judged the federal government’s leadership for the greater good as poor. From the beginning (-32) to the end (-25) of the crisis, its ALI score was negative – most people thought the government was failing to demonstrate effective leadership.

Fast-forward to mid-March, however, and the federal government’s fortunes changed dramatically. In the week of March 13-19, the government’s ALI score (+24) surged into positive territory for the first time since we started running the surveys.

A tale of two very different crises for the federal government

Perceptions of federal government leadership during the bushfire crisis and coronavirus pandemic, Australian Leadership Index (ALI) score, December 2019 to April 2020.

Image of graph showing perception of federal government leadership 2

Note: This chart shows the ALI score of Australians who think that the Federal Government shows ‘leadership for the greater good’ to a ‘fairly large extent’ or ‘extremely large extent’ compared to Australians who think ‘not at all’ or ‘only to some extent’. These ALI scores are calculated from a national sample of 300 people per week.

Source: Australian Leadership Index  Get the data

Public perceptions have improved every week since then, hitting a high score of +47 recorded in the past week.

The pattern of results for state governments is almost exactly the same, but interestingly, state governments have trailed the federal government in most of our weekly polls, with the exception of the week ending April 1.

States are experiencing the boost too

Perceptions of state government leadership during coronavirus pandemic via Australian Leadership Index (ALI) score, by state, March 19 to April 15.

image of graph showing perception of state government leadership 3

Note: This chart shows the ALI score of Australians who think that their State Government shows ‘leadership for the greater good’ to a ‘fairly large extent’ or ‘extremely large extent’ compared to Australians who think ‘not at all’ or ‘only to some extent'. The ALI scores between March 19, 2020 and April 15, 2020 are calculated from a natonal sample of 300 people per week. The 1,500 people surveyed between March 19, 2020 and April 15, 2020 constitutes a nationally representative sample. Tasmania, ACT and NT are excluded due to a small sample size.

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology  Get the data

Public health still at the top

A consistent finding of our surveys from the beginning has been the high esteem in which our respondents have held the public sector.

Notably, since we started measuring public perceptions, the public sector has always outscored government when it comes to demonstrating leadership for the greater good.

Better late than never – the government sector joins the public sector as guardians of the public good

Australian Leadership Index (ALI) score, public vs government sector, Dec 2019 to April 2020.

Image of graph 4 showing ALI score

Note. This chart shows the ALI score of Australians who think that the government sector and the public sector shows ‘leadership for the greater good’ to a ‘fairly large extent’ or ‘extremely large extent’ compared to Australians who think ‘not at all’ or ‘only to some extent'.
The ALI scores between March 19, 2020 and April 15, 2020 are calculated from a national sample of 300 people per week. The 1,500 people surveyed between March 19, 2020 and April 15, 2020 constitutes a nationally representative sample.  
Get the data

However, during the coronavirus pandemic, our respondents have viewed both the public sector and government in practically the same light.

The gains for the public sector are largely accounted for by public health institutions, which have been judged overwhelmingly as showing the greatest degree of leadership for the greater good of all institutions measured.

Public health institutions have also far outpaced private health institutions in our surveys during the pandemic.

This pattern is replicated in other sectors. Public education and media institutions, for instances, have been viewed much more favourably than their private counterparts during the crisis.

The worst performers in terms of leadership for the greater good throughout the pandemic have been health insurance companies, religious institutions, trade unions and multinational corporations.

What does this mean for the state of leadership in Australia?

The ALI was founded on the principle that leaders should act beyond self-interest to benefit the greater good, and this leadership should come from institutions across all sectors.

Since its inception, the results have painted a dim picture of the state of leadership across Australia, with the exception of only a few institutions, such as charities and public health.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily brought the wider public interest to the fore, and institutions across all sectors have instigated measures to protect the greater good.

To be sure, crises crystallise a shared understanding of the common good and encourage people to pull together in a manner not typical of more ordinary times.

Nevertheless, by shining a light on leadership for the greater good and how it can be improved, this pandemic may yet have a silver lining for the future.

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.