Why the Federal Budget is a lesson in leadership (and juggling)

By Mark Jones, CEO ImpactInstitute


How well can you juggle? In my case, not well. For others, keeping three balls in the air looks like second nature – and it’s always impressive. 

 It’s a good metaphor for leadership during Federal Budget week. The Treasurer’s job, as always, is to tell a story about how well the government is managing three national (and OECD) priorities – the economy, social progress, and the environment.  

 The knack is to keep all three balls in the air and convince us the government of the day won’t drop one of them.  

 It’s a fascinating act that’s also useful as a broader leadership metaphor. Every leader has a unique belief about the relative importance of economic, social, or environmental progress.  

 For example, here at ImpactInstitute, we care deeply about partnering with clients to improve social indicators such as health, diversity, inclusion, education, life satisfaction, and wellbeing.  

 But does that mean we don’t care about the economy or the environment? Of course not! In fact, we’re close to being recertified as a BCorp, which by design measures an organisation’s ability to balance priorities.  


Enter the wellbeing economy 

It’s worth remembering Federal Treasury has been managing this juggling act since the early 2000s. It even has an all-encompassing name for its stage performance – the wellbeing economy.  

 In simple terms, a wellbeing economy recognises that economic, social, and environmental progress are interconnected and interdependent. Everyone (and every organisation) does better if all three balls are in play. 

 The challenge for us as leaders is to recognise we’re not just watching the government’s grand performance – we’re essentially and vitally part of the act.  

 And by that, I mean leaders must keep an eye on the big picture. How well do we understand the underlying systems and structures changing our world?  

 There’s nothing quite like that moment of clarity when you understand how your organisation can positively impact these systems and make a difference. 

Taking action – three speeds 

With fresh insights and the goal of clarity in mind, what’s next? How can leaders best respond to the forces that are shaping our organisation? The trouble everyone faces is that change is rarely uniform, even, and predictable.  

 My suggestion is to develop strategies and partnerships designed to accommodate forces of change that, broadly speaking, operate at three different speeds. 

  1. Slow – How will you support continuous improvement every day. Operational improvements, team cohesion and better customer experiences are your lifeblood. 

  2. Fast – What plans exist to manage disruption, innovation and technology changes that take you by surprise? 

  3. Rapid – Expect the unexpected. The shocking speed of a pandemic, economic crises, or security breaches can be disastrous – so get ready now. 

Why speeds matter 

 It’s useful to keep these different speeds in mind because it helps frame our decision-making, resource allocation and budgets as different issues grab our attention.  

 I also like this approach because it reminds us that good things are always happening, even if you can’t see them every day.  

 Dr Alexandra Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Food Policy at The George Institute for Global Health had this to say about the slow, steady progress towards the wellbeing economy:  

 “Wellbeing economies have the power to reframe the human experience in the 21st century. By placing people and planet at the centre of policy making, social, environmental and health outcomes can all be improved. Countries like Wales and New Zealand have shown us what is possible – we now need to State, Territory and Commonwealth jurisdictions in Australia to step up.” 

 Turns out the juggling act is a universal human experience that makes a difference – at any speed or level of expertise.