Returning to Sydney at Auckland airport, I was browsing for a book, I saw an advertisement for a book I’d heard about, written by the CEO of the CPA, the premium professional body for Accountants. My wife saw me looking and she went up to buy it. We didn’t understand at the time, but they’d taken it off the shelf and the shop assistant had to go down to their store room to bring us back a copy.
It was called “The Naked CEO” by Alex Malley.
It was a good read. It was full of useful insights and advice for accounting graduates who wanted to succeed. Yes, he sounded like an accountant…but these are the people he was representing in a time of huge change, uncertainty and disruption. His job simply is to maintain the credibility and standards of the profession.
And it appears he has been doing it. In the last 7 years, CPA, under his leadership, has expanded their membership from 30,000 to 160,000 in seven years, record surpluses as well as a presence in 19 countries.
However, when I returned to Sydney, I shared with a colleague about my latest read and he told me that Alex is under media and legal scrutiny.
I googled his name and found a full blown argument online, with some outlandish, sarcastic and poison penmanship coming from the print media and there it was: a media crisis, public humiliation and character assassination of another one of our successful leaders, playing itself out like a Shakespearian drama…or a good old Aussie tall poppy lynching.
I love living in a democratic society, with the luxury of free speech. However, as part of this right, we get to see our leaders in parliament trading insults and engaging in character assassination, cheap shots and red herrings. I saw this on my return to Sydney – it appeared there were several brawls going on in town…and in the country.
We live in a society where all the complex muck and filth of our minds, our emotional knee jerk decisions manipulated by spin doctors and the rhetoric of conflicting agendas all need to be aired and heard before we make our decisions.
Clearly, democracy is a messy process.
Our courts are the place where truth is sought out with objective evidence, rhetoric and logical consideration according to a strict set of rules.
On the internet, trolls spew threats, filth and gore. Terrorists kill people randomly on the streets, our leaders postulate impotently with divided teams and this is the world we live in.
If you want to be a leader now, you have to be thick skinned, brave and able to come to terms with your fears for your own safety in this environment.
These are the times of Brexit and Donald Trump – voted for by a society sick of the status quo, willing to give rank outsiders and wild cards a go for a change.
And here is Alex Malley, standing tall, not capitulating, being calm under pressure, inviting further scrutiny…looking and being professional. He might have written a whole book of good advice…but now we are seeing the character in action, of the man under scrutiny.
From what I see, he’s doing a good job of it. Right or wrong, (we shall see…the jury is out) he is being a composed, focused determined leader facing his present circumstances. That in itself is admirable. He is walking the talk of leadership…under pressure.
As professionals, we are all leaders and our credibility is paramount. You have to fight for and defend your reputation at all costs. When you are under scrutiny in the public arena, it’s gloves off, no holds barred. There is no fairness, no logic in it…common sense and common decency do not prevail.
And news is not just in the papers, on the radio or TV – it’s all over the internet! All of it is out of your control. You need to be strong and smart, bringing out your inner street fighter in this arena.
What will you be like on the day when the mob is banging on your door, the trolls crying for your head on a plate and the tall poppy madness is demanding mob “justice” for you?
You know, it’s probably part of the job, an occupational hazard of being a leader in Australia…or anywhere for that matter.
Maybe Alex Malley’s biggest lesson to teach us is happening now – how to handle the heat of media frenzy.
Watch and learn.