Latham the flawed leader

One of my daughters bought me The Latham Diaries for Christmas. I read a chunk of the book each night over my holiday.
I am struck by the leadership lessons in this book, but first some background.
Mark Latham was elected leader of the Australian Labor Party and hence federal opposition leader in December 2003 by a narrow margin in the caucus vote. At the time several leading commentators (eg Michelle Grattan) described the decision as a radical experiment and a choice by the party to follow Latham in a wild roller coaster ride.
Latham had been a crude critic of the American Alliance and even harsher critic of George W Bush.
I had a roller coaster ride in my view of Latham’s performance. I was glad to see his early wins against what I saw as a tired and power hungry incumbent government. But then there were times when Latham seemed to “go missing”. His interest in the job seemed to wax and wane.
In the end he lost the 2004 Election convincingly with a net loss of seats to the government and for the first time in its term giving control of the Senate to the government.
I was disappointed with Latham’s response to the loss. Publicly he seemed to lack any real ability to analyse what happened and where fault was to be found, he found it in others. In my mind I decided he could no longer continue as leader. He was a spent force.
Reading his diaries has given me more insight than I could have imagined. Historians, political analysts, students of leadership and the general public owe him a great debt.
One the one hand he gives us a wide open look into the operation of a modern Australian political party (not that he would claim it was very modern). He holds little hope for the future of the Labor Party seeing it as been riddled with and under the complete control of ‘machine men’ whose only interest is their own power base with zero regard for the greater good of the party. Who knows how much of his analysis is correct. I am convinced that a great deal of it is and it has changed my view of modern Australian politics. I am almost convinced that party politics is in its death throws.
More interesting though is the insight into the mind of a leader. Mark Latham was a loner. From the start to the finish of the book he sees fault, with the exception of a very small group of supporters and friends, with everyone with whom he has ever worked. His analysis of them is powerful and incisive. What he lacks is any ability whatsoever to see his own contribution to the malaise he sees around him. He is a member of the part of which he became leader. But he regards himself as completely separate from its history and evolution into the organisation it is today. In failed working relationships, he sees the fault of the other but none of his own.
What he fails to see is the ordinariness of his experience. We all live and work in organisations of which we can find what we believe to be fatal flaws. We all see the unethical and self serving behaviour of others whilst finding it hard to see it in ourselves. Latham is a good writer so he documented it lucidly. Good but not good enough for a man of his talent.
The leader’s role is to rise above such a simple understanding of events around themself. The leader must reflect on their own contribution to the events which shape their organisation.
Sadly, so few who c all themselves leaders are able to find this most basic understanding of themselves. Sadly, Latham failed, first and foremost because of this failure.

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