Schubert on Julia Gillard

Jeff Schubert examines the behaviours of Australian Premier Julia Gillard and asks whether she fits the psychological profile of an irrational authoritarian.

In an article on 23 March in “The Australian” newspaper, journalist Paul Kelly commented on the attitudes and values of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard – and on her apparent contradictions and back-flips on policy. Kelly wrote:

“She warned Kevin Rudd (the former prime minister, whom she deposed) against pricing carbon and then seized this policy. She campaigned against a Big Australia (population growth) and then dropped the rhetoric. She partly re-regulated the labor market and then paraded as pro-market reformer … She appears too much as a work in progress. The reason is obvious – Gillard is a Prime Minister under construction. She is engaged in self-discovery, sorting out not just her policy framework but the convictions for which she will live or die. She is not fully formed as a political persona because she got the job too early.”

Yet, there is possible a more basic – and psychological – explanation. On the face of it, Gillard seems to have many of the personal characteristics of someone who has a fear of failure rather than a need to achieve (in comparison, Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, has many of the characteristics of the latter category). The difference was extensively explored by Professor Norman Dixon many years ago in his book, “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence”.

Two forms of motivation

Dixon, stressing that he was concerned with primary motivation, rather than secondary motivation, wrote:

“The crucial difference between the two sorts of achievement – the healthy and the pathological – may be summarized by saying that whereas the first is buoyed by hopes of success, the second is driven by fear of failure. … The former is associated with the possession of a strong ego and independent attitudes of mind, the latter with a weak ego and feelings of dependency. Whereas the former achieves out of a quest for excellence in his job, the latter achieves by any means available, not necessarily because of any devotion to the work, but because of the status, social approval and reduction of doubts about the self that such achievement brings. Although these two sorts of achievement motivation may bring about rapid, even spectacular, promotion, their nature and effects are very different. The first is healthy and mature, and brings to the fore those skills required by the job at hand; the second is pathological, immature, and developing of traits, such as dishonesty and expediency.”

If we go by the terminology used by Dixon in his book, Gillard would be described as an ‘irrational authoritarian’.

To go more deeply

Jeff has studied the motivation of leaders deeply. He writes regularly for Leaders we deserve. You can read more of his work on his blog site.


5 Responses to Schubert on Julia Gillard

  1. Tudor says:

    AS ever, Jeff supplies fascinating insights into leadership.

    I admire the classical studies of military incompetence by Professor Norman Dixon. However I was puzzled by the reference Jeff quotes to the development of “traits, such as dishonesty and expediency.”

    Here, as elsewhere, the leadership literature has tended to broaden the idea of a trait into any attributed characteristic noted in a leader’s style.

  2. Tudor,

    Julia Gillard is attending the Royal wedding despite the fact that Australia’s Governor-General is also attending — and despite the fact that she claims to be no particular fan of the monarchy.

    According to Wikipedia: “Gillard supports Australia becoming a republic and has suggested that the end of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign would be ‘probably the appropriate point for a transition’.”

    So why is she attending?

    I think this is more evidence (one extra small thing amongst a lot) that Gillard fits the Dixon “authoritarian” personality model.

    In this case, the issues are her desire, once again, to be part of an “in group” — combined with a “compulsive urge to submit to higher authority, coupled with a tendency to ingratiate oneself with powerful father-figures”.


  3. Tudor says:


    Brit journalists have suggested that quite a few guests to the wedding share open or concealed republican feelings but take the view there are other factors including various personal advantages to be gained from attending and quite a few disadvantages from not attending. That being said, Julia Gillard might have weighed up the benefits of a symbolic ‘no thanks’.

  4. a leader “to be a leader” he or sher should have his/her own network i describe it as the body of leadership

    for Australian prime minister it might have fallen in a dilemma of having her own “new” ideas came from the fact that the old PM had those common trend ideas – i.e. carbon cost which became common for politics but till now showed no technicality – and influencing her network who might not be convinced yet by her ideas

    then took the decision to surf with them to get more time to convince them then might return back to the old ones and her she fall in a new dilemma of completing this task in time!!!!

  5. Hi Jeff,

    Maybe a bit too much wishing to fit all evidence into your main jigsaw (or interprations from your main map?). If I had a invite I’d have gone for various self-interested reasons. If I also wanted to make a point I’d have thought hard whether to make the visit a symbolic one to advance my cause…

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