Joanne Hession: ‘Golfgate’ shows quality of leadership in Ireland is below par

Recent events demonstrate a leadership, integrity and trust vacuum at the heart of Irish politics that must be addressed, or society will continue to suffer,
Joanne Hession: ‘Golfgate’ shows quality of leadership in Ireland is below par

Former EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. 

At various times over the past week, I’ve tuned into the Liveline radio programme.

Early last week, callers were furiously demanding Phil Hogan’s resignation. By the end of the week  — once the resignation had occurred — callers were bemoaning that a ‘good man’ had been ‘hounded’ out of office.

Elsewhere, many have expressed the view that, now Phil Hogan has been ‘punished’, it’s Seamus Woulfe’s ‘turn’. 

Meanwhile, the actions and reactions of our public leaders are being carefully scrutinised, and I sense some people are awaiting the next slip-up.

Really great leaders unite people. They don’t divide people. They don’t cause this level of public disarray. So what does Golfgate tell us about the state of leadership in Ireland?

When we are choosing our leaders, are we still stuck in the negative stereotypes of the past — or have we moved towards a position where we expect real integrity from our leaders?

Something’s not right 

Ireland is a great country, with great people. We are among the world’s best in terms of quality of life, environmental quality, safety and education. We have a wonderful history, arts and culture, and a great reputation abroad.

Ireland is a country to be so proud of. But… there is something not right on our island.

If we look back just at the last 20 years, we’ve seen scandal after scandal, as well as multiple tribunals and inquiries. 

There’s hardly a sector of society that hasn’t been impacted by mismanagement, lack of accountability or unethical behaviour, all stemming from serious breaches in leadership and character. The last few weeks have been no different, showing lapses in judgement by those representing our nation, with the resulting breakdown of trust causing real anger and hurt.

In this year’s Edelman Trust Survey, Ireland ranked 23rd out of 28 countries in terms of the level of trust people have in government, business, media and NGOs.

This is a result that should concern anyone living here — because, when trust breaks down, so does society.

The value of strong values 

The behaviour of leaders impacts on those around them. This is as true within a family or small business as it is in the highest levels of government.

At national level, our leaders’ behaviour has an impact across society, as has been so evident over the last few weeks.

Wherever people find themselves across the world — from Belarus, Brazil and the US to Donegal and Waterford —they are unavoidably affected by the actions, choices, decisions and behaviours of their country’s leaders. The better the leader, the better will that society be.

A key element of leadership that cannot be ignored is values. We can make laws and regulations for our country but, if people lack values, they will find a loophole.

In other words: we can’t make a country we can be proud of simply by enacting laws. A country’s reputation is built on more than laws – it comes from its values.

Where faith in public leaders has been lost, the only way to re-build trust is for those leaders to place integrity at the heart of their character. In Ireland, this needs to be prioritised because, if we continue on the downward spiral of political cynicism and mistrust that has prevailed in recent years, our society will permanently suffer.

We are all leaders 

So what does all this mean for us as individuals?

Some of us may think: ‘How is this relevant to me? I’m not a leader’. But let me challenge that.

If you’re a parent, you have little followers. If you’re a manager in your workplace, or a volunteer in your local sports club, you lead. If you’re a teacher, a husband, a friend, a CEO or a team member, aren’t other people affected by your actions and your words?

At different times in our lives, every one of us is a leader and influences others. We are all individual parts of a jigsaw of thousands of pieces that makes up Ireland. We form the culture, character and values of our country.

So we have to ask ourselves: ‘What am I doing and who am I doing it for? Is my behaviour having a positive or negative influence on those around me? Whether I’m at the kitchen table, in the classroom, in a clubhouse or in a boardroom, am I leading well or poorly?’

Businesses think long and hard about the impact of the behaviours of their leaders. We as individuals – and most importantly, our public leaders – must think long and hard about our actions too.

Joanne Hession is the founder and CEO of [url=https://liftireland.ie/]LIFT Ireland[/url], a not-for-profit initiative aimed at increasing the level of positive leadership in Ireland.

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