Leadership Charisma…RIP?


You will note that we were relatively quiet on the Sutton saga last year. We were asked to make comment on this by the NZ Herald at the time but politely declined. We have learned from vast experience in the murky world of employment relations that there are always two sides to every story and that without facts and context nobody can really comment wisely about who was at fault or what the root cause if the issue was. The media loves a good story and often the facts get in the way of selling sensation.

In hindsight what we can say is this:

  • Two careers have been ruined by the way this issue has been handled
  • All the points of difference in style and unique strengths Roger Sutton offered when he was appointed are probably, in hindsight, all the contributing causes of his demise
  • SSC appears to have been intent only on launching a bloody big inquiry (which seems to be their default position when they may be called into account) rather than first trying to diffuse the issues by bringing the parties together early. Inquiries usually provoke an adversarial response rather than a mediated or conciliated outcome as all retreat to their respective corners and ‘lawyer up’.
  • Giving one party a theatre to air their apology whilst not affording the other the same opportunity is a pretty basic infringement of the terms of confidentiality agreements. The Commissioner stuffed up and got a pay rise for it!


What is tragic about this case is that the turgid ‘Yes Minister’ leadership style so prevalent in the NZ Public Service looks set to continue with the apparent failure of the Sutton leadership experiment.

Define Charisma

Whilst the rest of the global business world celebrates and encourages charismatic and heart driven leadership we fear this case will do nothing but serve to encourage other business leaders to be guarded, clipped and distant in their relationships with their teams and the general workforce.

We are of the view that there is still room for big personalities in key leadership roles…tempered with personal values such as humility, sensitivity and humanity.

So.. any charismatic leaders waiting in the wings for NZ public service leadership roles now that you know of ?

guide to Charismatic leadership

by Paul Bell


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