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Why we follow some leaders and not others

By Darren Fleming - posted Thursday, 22 November 2018

Scott Morrison has a tough task in front of him. Without explanation, he replaced a popular PM and is continuing with policies the electorate does not agree with. He is languishing in the polls and not offering new ideas for us to consider. Will the electorate decide to follow him for another three years, or look to someone else?

We follow one leader over another because we connect with them. At some level there is an emotional resonance that we feel that makes us think that a certain person can provide the answers we want. Having a logical connection is important, but it is the emotional connection that holds us tight.

There is a full spectrum of emotions that leaders can tap into. We see the full range in our political sphere. Pauline Hanson taps into the fear of loss – 'We will lose our Australian way of life' if immigration continues.


Tony Abbott initially tapped into a feeling of security. He told us that everything would be Ok if he were elected. He'd stop the boats, and get rid of the carbon tax that was going to be a 'wrecking ball' through the economy.

Other leaders offer more positive emotions for us to connect to. In 2007, Kevin Rudd offered a feeling of freshness that was long over due. Malcolm Turnbull offered us the feeling of hope, equality and a fair go. When he was installed as Prime Minister we thought he was going to fast track marriage equality, renewables and the republic. That excited the nation.

But what of the current crop of political leaders? How do they connect with us?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison offers the feelings of action and progress. He makes decisions, announces them and deals with the fall out later (e.g. funding for catholic schools and moving the Israeli embassy). This is a great strategy to connect with people affected by the issues and want action. But how many people wanted these actions? If he develops a deep connection with a few but confounds the many, is it worth it?

Part of the just take action approach of Morrison is his complete belief that he is right. When media challenges him about his ideas he is renowned for speaking over them and not answering their questions. Unfortunately this type of interview style causes people to disconnect.

Bill Shorten is the other candidate for the position of prime minister. While his party seems to be doing well in the polls, he is not.


Unlike previous opposition leaders, Shorten has not taken a small target approach and kept his ideas secret. He has laid out his policy positions (e.g. negative gearing, renewables, superannuation) for everyone to see. He has taken some flak on these, but it seems to have blown over. He is currently the longest serving parliamentary party leader in the last 10 years and has held his party together since taking control.

But yet he has not connected with the electorate. With voters crying out for authenticity and transparency from its leaders you would think that this would be appreciated, but this seems to count for nothing.

It's hard to say why this is the case. Perhaps it was his involvement with removing both Rudd and Gillard. Perhaps it is his former involvement with the union movement, or perhaps his argument is too logical. Whatever it is, he is not generating an emotional connection in the electorate and the polls are reflecting it.

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About the Author

Darren Fleming is a speaker, author and trainer who specialises in communication and influence. He is the author of Don't be a D!ck - creating connections that make influence happen. You can reach him at

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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