Tony Abbott's six greatest career gaffes

It's generally a tough climb up the ladder for anyone in a senior leadership position. Keeping the gig can be as challenging as getting it, as former prime minister Tony Abbott demonstrated last week when his colleagues voted to replace him with the more popular and electorally palatable Malcolm Turnbull.

While faced with a difficult job in very difficult times, fatal errors of leadership caused much of the trust and respect Abbott enjoyed to be eroded during the course of his tenure, leadership consultant Karen Gately explains.

Good leaders ... need to put their own thoughts and opinions aside, to a point.

Karen Gately

So what lessons can others in senior positions learn from his demise?

51698009 asked some experts to share the careers mistakes they believe helped trigger Tony Abbott's toppling from the top job.

Charisma deficit

Charisma is vital for high-profile leaders in the always-on internet era. It was a problem for our former PM, who struggled to develop an effective personal 'brand' and presence, executive coach Virginia Mansell says.

"Despite being a nice guy in person, he came across on television as stiff and too much the alpha male in a generation that has changed," she says.

"His personal style came across as out of touch and not comfortable in his own skin.

"He didn't relax and connect with people personally, although I am sure he does with his own friends where he is comfortable."

Style shift

Failure to adjust one's personal brand or style is a common mistake for those who've been elevated to new roles, says careers consultant Dr Edwin Trevor-Roberts. It was a problem for Abbott, whose combative approach whilst in opposition was not replaced with a more measured mien after he took over the top job.


"Re-inventing oneself is critical after a major promotion," Trevor-Roberts says.

"Tony Abbott was a brilliant Opposition Leader but struggled to shift his image in the minds of others to being seen as an exemplar Prime Minister."

The vision problem

Great leaders share their vision for the future and inspire confidence that they're up to the challenge of charting the course to take the rest of us there with them. Unfortunately we didn't get this from our former PM, Mansell says.

"Tony didn't paint the big picture of what Australians could aspire to belong to, and be part of," she says.

"The world is changing and fast, the way of working is being disrupted, and we didn't hear about this from Tony. This lack of vision, accentuated by his conservative politics on climate change and gay marriage, came across as tied to the past and not the future, and lacking in inspiration."

Out of touch

Good leaders stay in tune with the zeitgeist and don't seek to impose their personal and, some might say, outdated perspectives on others, Gately says.

Tony Abbott's deficits in this department led to loss of respect in some quarters, she believes.

"Tony has at times struggled to demonstrate self-awareness and a connection with the views and wants of the community he serves," Gately says.

"The knighting of Prince Phillip was one decision that led to the accusation of being out of touch."

Moving the organisation – or country – forward is key, adds Andrew Sparks, business coach and founder of Sparks Elite.

"You need to make decisions that are right today and into the future," he says.

"Good leaders will listen to what's happening out there and drive the conversation. They'll be attuned to what's happening in the rest of the world. [They] need to put their own thoughts and opinions aside, to a point, listen to all the information, and make good educated decisions and see them through."

Building bridges

Engaging effectively with others is an essential art for leaders who want to create and keep powerful allies. Anyone who doesn't master it has little chance of staying in charge, Trevor-Roberts believes.

"No person is an island unto themselves and Tony Abbott failed to build strong relationships with all stakeholders – the Cabinet, Liberal Party, public service and voters," he says.

"Strong relationships that can survive the inevitable ups and downs are critical for career success."

Captain's calls

Unilateral executive decisions, aka 'captain's calls', made without regard for the input and legitimate reservations of senior colleagues, appeared to be to Tony's detriment, Mansell says.

"While he may have thought this was showing decisiveness, in fact all it did was demonstrate lack of collaboration," she says.

"Good leaders need to gain people's buy-in and this is rarely achieved by acting in a non-inclusive way. Tony didn't seem to be able to differentiate between decisions where seeking counsel was imperative, versus decisions expected of him as a leader."