In Australia's worst floods in living memory, unique crisis leadership inspired a nation. The performance of Queensland's Premier, Anna Bligh, represented a global benchmark in managing and controlling the urgency of the crisis response against a background of a devastating, escalating statewide emergency.
Delivering an informative and compassionate performance that leapt ahead of leadership responses to recent crises such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, New Orleans Hurricane Katrina and even Australia's own Beaconsfield mine disaster, Anna Bligh stepped forward as the steadfast face of the flood. She led with a message strategy that clarified what was happening and how people would be affected. Rudy Giuliani delivered a similarly focused performance during the response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York.
Anna Bligh's response, supported by her senior police and emergency services heads, was much more than spin and her audience knew that. Confronted with a rapidly changing and terrifying environment, she showed understanding of the situation and delivered strong motivational messages to take the high ground and stay there. "The weather may break our hearts, and it's doing that, but it will not break our will, and in the coming weeks and coming months, we are going to prove that beyond any doubt," she said.
Her insightful leadership delivered an orderly and efficient transition from normal to emergency conditions. In the regular two-hourly press conferences, she showed consistency in action, and importantly, what she said under-promised and over-delivered. The internet chatted and twittered with praise and admiration for her as she presented a true picture of the situation to Brisbane and rural Queensland. Virtually every television and radio network suspended regular programs and went live and on the spot as they broadcast the depth of the deadly flood waters destroying people's lives, livelihoods and homes.
There was a strange, uneasy similarity between President Bush during 9/11 and the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in this crisis. So many of their stilted appearances during the crisis high points were wooden, robotic and lacking sensitivity and vision. The lesson here is there is room for only one clear leader, and once that post has been established, presidents and prime ministers have to be comfortable with second place and show it.
Now as the waters subside and the recovery starts, Anna Bligh displays a new phase of her leadership, focusing on recuperation and revival. She appears to be deliberately avoiding a political media circus and rules out an early Queensland state election to capitalise on her now popular position. "My commitment to the people of Queensland is this: 2011 is a rebuilding year. 2012 will be an election year, not 2011," she said.
Future recovery will be a telling time for Anna Bligh, who may well be judged now on how successfully the state of Queensland is revived and rebuilt. Britain's inspirational war-time leader and Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, lost the election in 1945 as Britain struggled to recover.