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Goodbye to the macho men

Angela Catterns
Friday, November 27, 2015

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By Angela Catterns 


machismo: 1. a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength and entitlement to dominate are attributes or concomitants of masculinity.  2. a strong or exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate.

Machismo. Such a great word uttered by our PM this week. 

It was part of his first major security address – quite rightly delivered to parliament and not to the TV cameras. He argued that a calm, clinical, professional, effective response to the terrorist menace was needed rather than “gestures and machismo”.

Of course some observers and MP’s have interpreted his comment as a dig at Tony Abbott, but they’re just being over-sensitive.

Malcolm Turnbull is not a macho man. He’s intelligent and mindful of what he says and that’s a good thing given the current global nervousness and all this talk of World War 3.

There are, however,  several macho political leaders strutting the world stage right now.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is their poster boy. He’s often depicted as an action-man engaging in various manly activities – riding a horse, piloting a plane, driving a racing car, practicing judo, holding a rifle. And almost always while shirtless. Of course Arnold Shwarzenegger was the quintessential macho politician  – having been the actual real-life Terminator before he went into politics.

And since the day he announced he would run for the Presidency of the US, Donald Trump has constantly criticised his opponents for their alleged weaknesses, all the while reinforcing his own tough, masculine image. 

Tony Abbott was most definitely a macho leader, happy to be filmed chug-a-lugging schooners in a pub, or stripped down to his budgie-smugglers on the beach.  Mark Latham was a macho leader. Remember that violent handshake with John Howard at the ABC radio studio?

Paul Keating was not a macho leader and neither is Barack Obama. Indeed the current US President is the embodiment of a caring and sensitive post-macho leadership style. His success is seen as proof that male leaders can be equally adept at exhibiting stereotypically feminine qualities.

My father, who fought in World War 2 from beginning to end, was not a macho man but was well-acquainted with the horrors of war. He used to say to me that women were the hope of the future. Once women were in positions of power, there would be no more war.

And then Margaret Thatcher became PM of Britain. Maggie was as macho as they come. The defining moment of her Prime Ministership was when she went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. She was considered a highly capable and committed war leader.

What defines the macho leadership style that we see so often adopted in today’s political and corporate worlds?

According to US leadership consultant, Frank D Kanu, first and foremost it’s the ‘I am right, you are wrong’ attitude. It’s when the leader bends facts to suit his argument, regards knowledge as power and so shares this only with his allies - dismissing even the most well constructed arguments for his own approach.

There’s also the ‘you’re like me so I like you’ approach. The leader gives preference to people with similar traits while being intolerant towards different personality types.

You may also be familiar with the practice of ‘self-rewarding at the expense of others’. Bonuses end up going to the leader and his closest associates and not to the staff member who actually made the success happen. Another characteristic of the macho leader is they don’t reverse their decisions, even if an opposing argument may ultimately prove to be right.

Remember Margaret Thatcher’s famous motto “the lady’s not for turning”?

In the US, a survey of over 6,000 respondents across 13 countries looked at a range of leadership characteristics and found that women scored highest on the traits that people value most. But the survey didn’t find that only women are good leaders. In fact men can exhibit these same characteristics.

Hopefully, we’ll see the historical "great leader" who is macho, infallible, omnipotent, and a know-it-all is being replaced by a new type of leader.

Someone who’s more feminine,  regardless  of their gender.

I think it’s already happened here in Australia.




Published: Friday, November 27, 2015

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