Leadership lessons from the 29th Prime Minister of Australia and the former Mayor of Sydney

The Honorable Malcolm Turnbull, the 29th Prime Minister of Australia, and Lucy Turnbull AO, the former Lord Mayor of Sydney Australia, joined Ray Wang and Vala Afshar to discuss international relations, impact of new technologies, new business models, data privacy, and advice to business leaders on how to succeed in a post-COVID-19 pandemic next normal.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

How can the US work with allied nations to improve its relationship with other countries, including China? How can businesses leverage new emerging technologies, and access to vast amounts of data, to lead with integrity and purpose of the betterment of society and its citizens? And as we look to a future that is surely shaped and changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, what advice can we give to business leaders who must recognize that values create value and that business can be the greatest platform for change? How do we build a better world together, one that is inclusive, generous, forgiving, healthy, and prosperous? 

To help us better understand what leadership traits are necessary to guide us during these disruptive times of uncertainty, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and I invited the former Prime Minister of Australia and former Mayor of Sydney to join our weekly show DisrupTV. 

The Honorable Malcolm Turnbull was the 29th Prime Minister of Australia. Prior to entering politics, he enjoyed successful careers as a lawyer, investment banker, and journalist. Malcolm Turnbull established an investment banking firm in 1987, specializing in the media and technology sectors. Malcolm Turnbull co-founded the first big Australian Internet company, which was listed on the NASDAQ in 1996 and later sold to Worldcom. Malcolm Turnbull entered the Australian Parliament in 2004, and during that time, served as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Minister for Communications, and as Prime Minister from 2015 to 2018.


The Honorable Malcolm Turnbull, the 29th Prime Minister of Australia.

During his time as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull delivered an economic growth agenda that lead to record job creation on the back of cutting personal and company taxes. Malcolm Turnbull's government legalized same-sex marriage and reformed the school funding model to ensure a consistent, needs-based approach across all school sectors. Malcolm Turnbull's government embarked on the largest peace-time expansion and modernization of Australian defense forces and defense industry, including commissioning 54 new Naval vessels. Malcolm Turnbull also successfully negotiated a deal with President Trump to maintain a refugee resettlement deal he had agreed to with President Obama. 

Malcolm Turnbull also radically reformed the way the Australian federal Government deals with states and cities, establishing a series of City Deals -- an example is the construction of a new airport for Sydney. At a time of growing nationalist sentiment across the world, Malcolm Turnbull opposed racism and division at every turn, ensuring that Australia remains the most successful multicultural society in the world. Malcolm Turnbull's new bestselling book, A Bigger Picture, is the remarkable story of his life.

Lucy Turnbull AO is the former Lord Mayor of Sydney. Lucy Turnbull is an urbanist, businesswoman, and philanthropist with a longstanding interest in cities and technological and social innovation. From 2015 to 2020, Lucy Turnbull was the inaugural chief commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, tasked by the NSW state government to assist in delivering strong and effective strategic planning for the whole of metropolitan Sydney. 


Lucy Turnbull AO is the former Lord Mayor of Sydney.

Lucy Turnbull was the first female Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney from 2003 to 2004. In 2011, Lucy Turnbull became an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the community, local government, and business. Lucy Turnbull has served as a board member of multiple not for profit cultural and not-for-profit institutions. In 2012, Lucy Turnbull was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Business by the University of New South Wales (NSW), and in 2016, was appointed Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Built Environment, University of NSW. In 2017, Lucy Turnbull was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Western Sydney University which she received for her substantial and sustained service and contribution to the University and the Greater Western Sydney region. 

Lucy Turnbull is a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW and a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council's GeoTech Center, focused on how new technologies and data impact geopolitics, and how we can ensure tech benefits and uplifts people, prosperity, and peace globally. Lucy Turnbull delivered a brilliant TEDTalk on Designing Cities for Women. Lucy Turnbull talked about a women's safety charter that was recently introduced to improve the citizen experience in Sydney. When safety is improved, business participation will improve, and economies will grow and improve. It is about making the community more inclusive and safe. 

Wang and I also invited Dr. David Bray to join us as our special co-host. Dr. Bray is the inaugural director of the GeoTech Center and the executive director of the GeoTech Commission on the Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies and Data at the Atlantic Council.

Here are the key leadership lessons from our conversation with Malcolm Turnbull and Lucy Turnbull

  1. Multi-cultural diversity and an inclusive mindset are strengths. Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world, this is according to Malcolm Turnbull. Just under a third of Australians were born outside of Australia. Over half of Australians have one parent born outside of Australia. In Sydney, Chinese is the second-most popular language in the country and city. This multi-cultural diversity is an asset and provides extraordinary connections to the rest of the world and nearby regions. In Australia, a diverse community is an extraordinary achievement but not one that we can be complacent about. The Chinese born and descendant population of Sydney and Australia is a very big social and economic factor, according to Lucy Turnbull. Since the 1970s, the Australian culture has been more open and inclusive with nearly 200 languages spoken in Sydney. According to Lucy Turnbull, Australia does not have an 'us versus them' mindset. 

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      Malcolm Turnbull, the 29th Prime Minster of Australia. 

  3. Mutual respect is key to uniting and growing economies. We must maintain a political discourse that maintains mutual respect. We must reject racism and division in any form, according to Mr. Trumbull. Immigrants have shaped and grown Australia's economy. Australia has invited migrants for decades into the country, with dual citizenship, able to grow the country's economy. The impact of foreign students is a success factor, according to Lucy Turnbull.

    "The glue that bonds a multi-cultural society together is mutual respect." -- Malcolm Turnbull

  4. Demography is destiny. China and India represent the two largest populations in the world. The US is the third-most population, followed by Indonesia. We talked about the three largest GDP by 2030 -- China, India, and the US -- and where we should invest to further strengthen our relationships and economies. Investment in important and investment in Australia is easier than investments in other nations like China or India, according to Malcolm Turnbull. The pandemic is hurting investments with a growing mindset of protectionism. "Protectionism is not a ladder to get you out of a low growth track, but rather a shovel to dig you deeper," said Malcolm Turnbull. Lucy Turnbull reminded us of the importance of the security of our supply chains including food and PPE supply chains. Malcolm Turnbull did talk to us about the strained relationships between Australia and China, which he extensively covers in his new book. Malcolm Turnbull said that China and Chinese people are our family in Australia. We need to continue to practice mutual respect and champion diversity and inclusion. 
  5. Technology disruption, pace, and scale have changed every aspect of leadership. The pace and scale of change for technology have impacted every business and industry. Malcolm Turnbull talked about the change in media in the past two decades. The economics of producing media has completely changed. All individuals are broadcasters. People can now select their own echo chamber. Fair and balanced mainstream media is no longer fair or balanced, according to Malcolm Turnbull. The challenge now is to ensure false news has limited reach and impact. You have to be able to respond to false narratives to minimize the impact of misinformation and confusion. We are feeling less free to speak our minds because we are worried about being bullied on social media. Technology has brought us together, yet many of us feel lonely and intimated because of bullying on social networks and lack of mutual respect. Strong leaders must recognize and eliminate bullying, racist,  and threatening discourse. We also talked about the technology backlash and sensitivity to facial recognition misuse. 

    "Maintaining a respectful, civil discourse, is vitally important towards building mutual respect." -- Malcolm Turnbull
  6. Women leaders are more inclusive and collaborative. Lucy Turnbull shared several examples of how women leaders are more collaborative, better listeners, and more welcoming. We discussed several examples of women government leaders who are successfully managing the current pandemic. We all agree that 'hard' leadership is less effective over time versus 'soft' leadership -- a more graceful and dignified method of co-creating value, together.  

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    Lucy Turnbull AO, the first female Mayor of Sydney, Australia. 

  8. You cannot respect someone if you do not trust them. Are you truthful? Can you be relied upon? Are you self-aware? Malcolm Turnbull said that you can find business people who are aiming high and may perhaps exaggerate to reach new heights. He said that businesses are like orchestras, where most are trying to play off the same musical page, although they have different roles. The most important business core value in a hyper-connected, knowledge sharing, the digital economy is trust. A lack of trust is a fundamental problem for establishing safety, belonging, and mattering. A deficit of trust can lead to systematic racism, and a lack of equality, diversity, and inclusion. 

    "Trust is absolutely longer term, an essential ingredient for a healthy political and social system. The opposite of trust is anarchy."-- Lucy Turnbull

  9. Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you have them do to you. Mutual respect is the glue to establishing trust and inclusiveness. During difficult times of uncertainty, we must come together to help each other. This is the time for love, honesty, forgiveness, kindness, and unselfish generosity. 

I strongly encourage you to watch the entire video with Malcolm Turnbull and Lucy Turnbull AO. Our brilliant conversation included shared wisdom from two extraordinary individuals with incredible advice that will benefit entrepreneurs, civil servants, elected officials, and business leaders. 

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