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Transcript: Leadership in Public Office (EP15)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 15. Today, I'm talking with Adam Crouch.

Adam is the New South Wales Liberal State Government Member for Terrigal. He's also the Government Whip, Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast and Deputy Chair for the Standing Committee of Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics. ‘Crouchy’ as he is affectionately known, is an unbelievably hard working leader in the Central Coast community. I doubt there's a street he hasn't walked, a house he hasn't visited, or a community group that he hasn't engaged with at some point in time across his electorate and the broader Central Coast.

I definitely haven't asked Adam to come on and talk politics, but I do want to focus our conversation today on Leadership in Public Office.

Crouchy, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.

Adam Crouch: Wow. That was an amazing introduction, Brendan. I've got to say, I was impressed. I'd vote, oh, sorry, I can't talk about politics. I said, I could vote for me after that sort of intro. That was great. Thank you very much. And look, it's a pleasure to be here.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, thank you for taking up the time. A question that I know my listeners will want to ask, because I get this, I get asked this sometimes is, you know, you're affectionately known as ‘Crouchy’, when are you ‘grouchy’?.

Adam Crouch: Oh, look, I've got to say, I'm, very rarely am I grouchy, I got to say. And look, the ‘Crouchy’ thing came from the Premier. So, she's always called me ‘Crouchy’ from day one. It sort of stuck and she does it publicly as well. So, it's not just private, so it will be out and she just automatically calls me ‘Crouchy’ and to the point where sometimes, I'm not sure if everyone knows my first name's actually Adam. But now, it's stuck and look, I'm proud that people realise I'm just a normal person. I put my pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. Yeah.

And Crouchy’s fine. And look it's great to be out with people when you're out in the community and people feel relaxed enough to say, “How's it going, Crouchy? What's happening?” It makes people feel more comfortable, I suppose, that I'm just a normal human being.

But again it's the Premier’s fault. So, yeah. Gladys calls me Crouchy all the time. She's done it. She's done it in question time during Parliament, which was a bit confronting because everyone's sort of looking at going, “Hey, Crouchy, how's it going?” But you know, it's all about keeping it real and that's what politics, I think politicians need to have that reality check and as I said, “Keep it real.”

Brendan Rogers: And my evidence of that today is the, it's a Friday morning, the 26th of June, just to date stamp this.

And you've kindly worn a Liverpool Football Club scarf for me because we've taken the championship today, the first time in 30 years.

Adam Crouch: I was going to say, 30 years is an amazing lead up to a win. So, the least I could do was don this.

The only time I'd ever wear red, let me tell you, as a liberal person is for some, it's for a friend. So, I look very happy to don the red scarf for you and happy to take the photo and well done to all those poor, suffering Liverpool fans, who've had 30 years in the making for this, but I'm sure they're all celebrating at the moment.

Brendan Rogers: We've had to wait a while, mate. But thank you, I appreciate it. Mate, let's get into our interview topic. What I just want you to explain, ‘cause I'm sure there's a lot of listeners out there. And to be honest, me included, you know, when you talk about your role as a member, what does that involve? But also, I want you to talk about your role as a Parliamentary Secretary of the Central Coast, because they are leadership roles. What are those roles about?

Adam Crouch: You know, it's an interesting job. I mean, as we were talking a little earlier, before we came on air, I don't think people plan to get into politics. It's something that they make a decision about. They're passionate about. They want to speak for others. And I think as I was growing up, I always was never afraid to take a step forward whether it be in the sport. I was a swimmer, so I was the captain of my swimming team and student representative roles. And so, I think from an early age, some people want to help others. It certainly isn't about power or money or influence, it's about what you can do to actually help people, whether it be at a local level, as a member, on a broader level, as the Parliamentary Secretary. The Parliamentary Secretary’s position effectively means that the Premier has said to me, I want you to keep an eye on all things Central Coast for me.

There are four seats on the Central Coast, obviously Gosford, Wyong, The Entrance and Terrigal, of course. And so, my job is to oversee that the government’s projects and the government's policies and the government's initiatives, they're all being delivered right across the Central Coast. So, it's a big job. So, in addition to my job as being the member for Terrigal, which is the greatest privilege you can ever have is to represent others. And so it's two-pronged. I've got to make sure that my constituents and my people are getting delivered, what we've promised to them and on a broader level, all the other areas across the Coast. And you know, the government, it's a big job because we've made some massive commitments across the Central Coast, you know. Over a billion dollars worth of roads, the delivery of our hospitals. My wife's a nurse and, you know, to see the delivery of great health care on the Central Coast is so important because the region's growing. It's growing very quickly. It's one of the fastest growing regions in New South Wales.

In addition to that, we've projected about another 90,000 people living here in the next 20 years. So, all of this infrastructure has got to be delivered, whether it be schools, roads, hospitals, additional police, additional nurses, additional doctors, additional teachers, all that stuff has to be planned for in advance. And it's my job to make sure that all those things are being ticked off. So, I obviously talked to the Premier regularly, very regularly actually. Most people don't realise she's very hands-on, which is a good leadership quality. She's not, she wouldn't ask somebody to do something she wouldn't do herself. And I had the same opinion, I suppose, that I wouldn't ask anybody to do something for me unless I was prepared to step up and do it, or I've already done it once before.

But it's about being accessible. People realising they can talk to you about whatever their issues might be. You can't solve every problem. It's like business. I mean, politics and being a Parliamentarian. It is a business and the business is people and looking after them and delivering the products, which are things, roads, hospitals, etcetera. So, it's a really interesting job. It can be frustrating because you want to solve everyone's problems, but you can't always do it. But what you can do is hopefully steer them in the right direction to get the best possible outcome for what they're trying to achieve and stay focused. It's a job like no other.

And, by way of background, I was elected in 2015 and I will still never, ever forget that Saturday when I was elected. It is probably the most humbling moment of my entire life to know that the majority of people of the 55,000 odd voters said, “We want you to be our voice.”

And, I think, like any good person, once you need to know where your limits are, you need to know when you've done the job you wanted to do, you need to be able to be confident that you are doing the right thing. You don't get it right all the time, but you've got to be confident to take the step forward and say, “I'm going to fight for this.” I'll never forget walking back from Terrigal Public School. And I was walking. I actually had my father with me at the time who had dumped on a polling booth for the day. And we were walking back and I stopped. And there's a point at Terrigal where there's some public seating. It looks back across Wamberal/Forresters. And it's probably one of my spectacular views. And I just, you sit there and you take it in and you realise that as far as you look, there are people there.

And they're saying it, “That's the guy we want to be our voice.” And it's a great leveller. And it's also really humbling. And, obviously, we repeated the exercise in 2019 and I was reelected on an increased margin, which is always reassuring. ‘Cause that means that the majority of people will say, “Hey, Yeah, Crouchy’s actually doing a good job. We like him and we want him to keep doing it.”

So, it's been an incredible ride. It wasn't something I'd always had a passion for politics and leadership and helping others. And I think it's a combination of all of those things.

Brendan Rogers: What were your drivers around getting into politics. And I asked that, I really want to get an idea of your mindset around that because there's so many people, they would say, “Are you crazy?”

Adam Crouch: Yeah, look, my Mum was the first one who said, “Are you nuts?” I remember ringing her when I decided to put my hand up for pre-selection for Terrigal. And I had a very, very, very solid job working in the printing industry. And I'd been in there for 23 years, but it was time. I mean, you know, you can earn a lot of money, but not have any job satisfaction. You know, here, you get the most amazing level of job satisfaction. It's nothing like it.

And I'd always been sort of politically-driven a lot. I'm a child of the, I was born in the 70’s. So, I grew up through the 80’s. And, you know, that was a time when we had political leaders who were not afraid to make a decision and stick by it.

It may have been tough calls. You know, I talk about leaders, you know, whether it be, you know, Reagan, Thatcher, you know, Bob Hawke. You know, it doesn't matter which side of politics you're from, but there were conviction politicians. They'd say, you know, this is what's best for the majority of people and we're going to go with it, whether it be deregulating the dollar or, you know, with Margaret Thatcher, you know, standing up to their Mining Unions. And I've got to say, look, self-confessed fan of Margaret Thatcher. And I suppose, again, my tragic following of politics dates back to primary school and I remember we had to do a project on the person we most admired.

I grew up in Adelaide, so most of the kids I went to school with, you know, it was David Hookes or the Chappell brothers and, you know, Don Bradman and yeah, mine was Margaret Thatcher.

And I wrote to Margaret Thatcher when I was doing this project and I got a letter back from Number 10. I'm pretty sure that 1984 was a leap year because of the date of the letter that came back. I still got the letter to this day. But they were people who weren't afraid to take on a challenge and speak up whether that was a tough call or not. And so, I think that was the start of it. I said to watch people like that, and then you see the bit of that erosion around leadership, political leadership, and people making the populous decision rather than the tough, right decision.

And, you know, I'm very privileged. I was elected into government, which again is a huge privilege to do so you can influence the outcomes for so many people when you're in government. And, you know, I was lucky. I, you know, Mike Baird was the Premier followed by Gladys Berejiklian. So, I had two exemplary Premiers who were not afraid to step outside the comfort zone to make decisions, to get things done. And so, yeah, so long story short, it was a buildup over time. I grew up with a family full of teachers, so that in itself was interesting because traditionally, teachers don't tend to be on the liberal side of politics, but it also made for really, really entertaining family dinners. You know, when you've got a grandfather who is a diehard labor teacher, and you've got me whose greatest hero’s, Margaret Thatcher, he just thought that was appalling. And I noticed that you've got a copy of my maiden speech there and it's in there. And to say that our family discussions were fiery was an understatement.

And I remember the first time that I bought my now wife to meet my family and we had a family dinner and she just thought we were about to get into a punch-up. But that's the thing, it's all about having that respectful, fiery, passionate discussion about something and, you know, and dogmatically defending your point of view on it. And people are too scared to do that these days. They are too scared about offending somebody. And I think it's more offensive to not speak up and not take the fight, not put your point of view. You know, you're never going to please everybody. There's always going to be somebody that's going to be outraged by something. And that's the hardest part with the rise of social media. We've seen this sort of confected outrage. And I do, I call it the confected outrage squad.

We see all around the country, all around the world. And I think people need to get back to basics sometimes. And you can have a really good, animated argument slash discussion without walking away being offended. And I think people need to toughen up a little bit occasionally. And so, I was brought up in that environment. I said, Mum's a teacher, Mum's, sister's a teacher, both my grandparents were teachers. And so, it was a good, you know, those sorts of things probably don’t happen as much as they should any more. And, so yeah, I was really lucky. And the other thing is I had parents, I'm an only child. I had parents that never held me back. You know, Mum and Dad said, “You can be whatever you want to be in life if you put your mind to it.” So, I was really lucky.

Great parents. Mum and Dad are awesome. You know, they still live in South Australia. I remember when I said, when I rang them to say I was going to run, I mean, Dad was just delighted. He was just so chuffed and Mum was terrified and she’s just, “Why are you giving up a great job for this?” And you know, “people think so lowly of politicians.” And I just said, “Yeah, but you can't sit on the outside and complain about the outcome if you're not prepared to have a go at it and so, “You have a crack."

I'm going to sit in my second term now. We've delivered so much stuff and I'm so proud of that. And to be that voice, to be that person to defend what I think is right. And look, you know, the public are pretty cluey, and they can smell a fake and they can smell someone that's just saying what they want to hear. And I think that's been the other key to this is, you know, don't try and con people. Just be genuine.

I came from a sales background and politics is a bit like sales to some degree. I mean, you're the product, you're selling the governments wares, but never promise something you can't deliver because it's your integrity, your name at the end of it. And I'm so proud of the fact that over the last, almost five years now, I've never promised something I couldn't deliver. I've never committed to something I couldn't do. And that's where I think a lot of other parliamentarians and I prefer the word “parliamentarian” to politician, I've got to say. I mean, it's such an honour to walk into a chamber. And I think people need to realise that it's an honour and a privilege to walk into, whether it be a Federal Parliamentarian or a State Parliamentarian or a Local Government Member. It's an honour. And it's not something you should take lightly or be disrespectful of because people will judge you because of that.

Brendan Rogers: Let's go back to some of these qualities you talked about in leaders and you know, that real conviction, you know, their beliefs came through. Margaret Thatcher, you talked about. Yeh, you did mention that in your maiden speech, you brought that letter in your office as well. So, yeh I have to say, even from my perspective, I was right into  sport then. So, I would've thought you were a bit strange at that age as well. What is, if you think about Thatcher, you mentioned Reagan, Bob Hawke, as well on a different side of politics, again, a fantastic Prime Minister for Australia. What are those things, those values or those traits in those leaders that really do it for you?

Adam Crouch: Look, I kind of think, I think it's the honesty and the toughness of saying, “Yep, I know this isn't going to be the most popular decision, but it's the right decision. And we saw that globally during the 80’s. You know, it was a pretty scary time in the world. So, for people like Reagan and Thatcher and Hawke and others to stand up and go, “No, no, no. We've got to follow these things through. We've got to not squibb the tough decisions.” And as I said, I was lucky enough to see leaders like that and say, you know, you turn on the TV at night and the other thing is there was no social media. So, I've had the privilege of meeting John Howard many, many times and same thing. Here's a guy, you know, Port Arthur was great case in point, you know, he's a man that said to a country, “We're going to take away your automatic weapons.” Now, that was probably one of the gutsiest things, and you had Tim Fischer, who, again, I've also met, you know, the late Tim Fischer, an amazing leader. You know, there, the two of them stood and said to this nation, “We are going to take this away because it's not necessary. And it's putting people in harm's way.” And as it turns out, it was one of the best decisions this country's ever had. All of this was playing out in front of me as a younger person. I mean, obviously a little bit older when, when Howard became Prime Minister. You look at John Howard and he's a guy who'd been kicked that many times politically, but he kept at it. He kept at it and he kept at it. You can bump into John Howard. He's always approachable, always amenable, always happy to have a chat, even though they're under huge pressure.

And Gladys is the same. I mean, you know, Corona's been a really good example of strong leadership, I mean, here's a lady trying to protect 8 million people. And yet, she still has time to send me a text message to check on something locally. That's what a good leader does. A good leader tries to do the best they can for everybody. And as she said before, you know, it was a scary time for everybody. I know she's had plenty of sleepless nights. I mean, Easter, I mean, Easter was terrifying because it takes 10 days before we know the outcome of what’s happening with the virus. So, you make a decision and you, we’re gonna find out in ten days whether it was good or bad or horrific. And we're seeing some of that playing out in Victoria at the moment.

So, you know, it is a tough call being in leadership because again, there's always somebody out there that's not going to like what you do. And you've got to be prepared to wear it on the chin, accept it, and move on to the next thing. And, but also hopefully learn from it. Some of the criticisms obviously unwarranted, some of it's absolutely warranted.

Brendan Rogers: Let's talk about that actually. ‘Cause I'd like to just get your thoughts around politics today. And as every day goes by, it's almost like the community just loses that little bit more faith and trust in politics and politicians. And you know, you do have to respect the roles, but what is it about politics and politicians today that you think where the disengagement is coming from the community?

Adam Crouch: Social media, I think, plays a huge part in it. I mean, there's no filter on it and it can be so corrosive and so divisive. Part of being the Government Whip, so my job is to look after all of our MP’s and I went and met all of our new MP’s to educate them and help them through it. And one of the things I've said to them is, “Social media can be your greatest asset. It could also be your worst weapon to be used against you. You've got to use it judiciously, responsibly, and we've seen cases on a daily basis where that doesn't happen.” And I think that is something that people need to be very mindful of.

You know, with the greatest respect, social media is not democratic. Good example. I see social media as your shop front. So, and this is what I've said. You know, “This isn't a free for all. This is not a place for everyone to sling off at somebody else. And it needs to be treated respectfully by those who are using it and those who are actually reading it and consuming it.” So, we have a pretty tough position on this. You know, if you're going to hop onto one of my social media pages and look, to be honest, I'm on two, I'm on Facebook and Instagram and that is it. We use it as a tool to put out a message. We are not going to engage in debate on it because it's just not the respectful and right way to do it. If someone wants to have a chat with me about something we're doing. They can come and see me or talk to me on the phone and actually have a real conversation about it. Not some diatribe at 2:00 a.m. because you've had a couple of drinks and you want to unload and attack other people. It's pretty gutless, I've got to say. And you can hide behind fake names. We've seen it here on the Central Coast. You get the, I said the confected outrage squad, we know who runs these pages. It’s politically-motivated in a lot of cases and pretty pathetic, I've got to say. And it tends to be, with all due respect, and I shouldn't be too political, but it tends to be a weapon of the left. Again, we see that confected outrage.

But people are sort of a) getting smarter at it now. And we've seen that. But again, we've seen it playing out more where people disengage now because they're sick of seeing the constant berating of others. And so look, basically, we put messages in on the Facebook page saying, “This is what we're doing. This is what we're delivering for people's information. Or we steer them towards something like it might be a small business grant, or it might be what's happening with a road. And we want people to have their say. So, we use it as a tool to tell people what's going on, but it's not a platform for debate.

You look at the revolving door of Prime Ministers. That never happened until we had social media. And so, this is where, as I said, social media can be a great platform to be of assistance. But, I think it's corroded away because it's not just a 24-hour news cycle. It's limitless because people are piling on with using social media as a weapon. And we spoke about weaponising it and it's not good. It's not healthy because it's cyber bullying.

I mean, it's interesting, you know, we talk about cyberbullying. If you ever want to see it playing out in full force, look at an MP’s Facebook page, or, you know, if you were to do that on a normal person's page, there'd be public outrage. And look, I remember when I got elected, Jill used to struggle with what people would say, because it's usually at, with all due respect, it's out of ignorance and ill information. And most Parliamentarians work phenomenal hours, long ones. And they do it because I love the job and she would get upset because she knows how much time we were putting into what we do, only to have someone say, “Oh, you only ever see them when this is happening and that sort of stuff.” So, and it was really tough for the partner to actually come to terms with the fact that a) you have no private life anymore, but b) everyone's critiquing you on everything unless they physically see you at that thing you've never been anywhere. 

So, I think it's a way to have a cheap shot, but it's really hard for the partners of parliamentarians because they often see it playing out and all they want to do is jump in and defend. But the downside of that is a minute you engage with that sort of person, they've had a victory and they keep going. So, what I would say to most and that, but that's the same in business too. I mean, look, social media can be a fantastic asset, just like mainstream media, if it's used well and used for the right reason. So, and again, that's where you've got to be prepared to say, “No, no, I'm not going to jump. It's your shopfront.” Would you allow someone to stand at your shop front and yell abuse at your customers? The answer to that is “no”. So why would you allow people to do it in your social media?

So, we take a pretty strong stance on that. If someone wants to go off their dial, we’ll say, see you later, you know, that's not what it's about. So, I think that's been, I think that's caused part of the problem because people feel like they can literally say anything and not be held accountable for it anymore. And some of those things are just so appallingly bad and they see Parliamentarians, either taking some sort of righteous, view of stuff. And I think that's where people have got to get back to basics. You know, you mentioned in the intro about, you know, there isn’t a door I haven't knocked and stuff like that. And I'm proud of the fact that I've door knocked thousands of homes in my electorate, because when you knock on someone's door and they open it and they look at you straight in the face, and they suddenly realise who you are.

I think most people have never met them, their MP, let alone actually had a face-to-face conversation with them. I mean, the reality is I'm no different to you. I want to know what the people I represent think of what I'm doing. Is there something more I can be doing? It's about genuinely engaging with people and you know, and you shouldn't be afraid if you're doing a good job there’s nothing to be afraid of. And yeah, sure. There are, people are going to hate what you do. They'll just hate you because you're not their side of politics. That's their right. You know, that's the joys of living in a democracy, you know. And we can have an election and no one fires a gun. And, you know, we had that banter at polling booths again sometimes is a bit on the weird side.

And that's where I think people need to get back to. We live in a democracy. It's an amazing system. It's not perfect, but it certainly is better than plenty of others. And I think people need to realise that the majority of people who decide to want to run for parliament do have that burning desire down to help other people. It's, and I think that's been lost. That's what I was saying before. That really has sort of been diluted because of all I said, I think social media has played a huge part in it.

Brendan Rogers: I want to go back to the point around cyberbullying. And from my understanding, that's a key part of the issues around mental health related issues nowadays. So, as a leader, again, yourself and your government colleagues, the opposition colleagues, all those people that you're interacting with, how do you guys deal with this stuff? Because there is lots of stuff that people can say on social media, and that's got to have some impact on you because you're just a normal person doing a normal job, but certainly people have these massive, I would say, unrealistic expectations around politicians. How do you deal with it?

Adam Crouch: Well, I've got to say, when people start to, when they go into attack mode on, on me or some of my colleagues, I suppose, you don't read it. I'm too busy delivering what the government promised and looking after the people in my electorate. I honestly don't read it. And people will say, “Oh, did you see what X said about you?” I went, “No, I don't read it. I've got better things.” Honestly, I've got better things to do with my time than read some cranky post that was posted by 2:00 a.m. that someone's had their 47th beer for the evening and decide to have a rant. I’m just not interested. It delivers nothing. It's not productive. And you know, I have a finite amount of time that I have, you know, four-year period to deliver what I have to do. That's my job.

So, to be truthful, I don't read it. And my best advice that I've given to my colleagues and friends, “Just ignore it.” ‘Cause it doesn't help anything. So why bother wasting time? Why bother wasting precious time, where you can be doing things that you enjoy, reading that? And that's not just in a context of me being a Parliamentarian. I would say it to anybody. I think the tough part for young people these days is that social media is part of their fabric. You know, when you and I were going to school, you'd go to the bus stop, you catch up with your friends and it was one-on-one interaction like we're having right now. Now, they sit at the bus stop and they're all on their phones.

And the other thing is, you know, look, I think everybody, at some point has been picked on at school and look, you know, I'm not particularly tall. I got to say, look, I probably copped my fair share of bullying at school. But the difference was that it was usually you and one other person or maybe a third person. It was pretty confined and it could be dealt with swiftly one way or the other. Now, it's instantaneously shared within hundreds, if not thousands of people. So, it's a much broader issue because, and again, where you and I will have this conversation, a school kid right now would be texting his five mates simultaneously doing it. And that's the difference.

I mean, they're very skilled. Let me tell you, the kids these days are so good at multitasking. I'm amazed. I mean, I couldn't do it. I mean, I can only do one. I can only read one email at a time. I'm very good at doing that one email at a time, but I do want an email at a time. So, I can't, I don't pretend to be able to multitask, but what we've got to realise is that's their world. And so, we've got to work out how we make that world safer for them. And look, I've seen some appalling things on social media written about young people. And to me, again, we just switch off again. “No, I'm not reading that.” I'm not, you know, it's like when people complain about what's on TV, well, guess what, change the channel. That's how we look at it.

But a younger person is their whole world and they have trouble disseminating about how to distance themselves from it. And I think that's something we, as a government, and we, as a society, have to be very mindful of and we have to do everything we can to protect our young people from that sort of undue pressure. I mean, you know, they're kids, they should be able to be having fun, not worrying about the 300 people that have read something on social media about what they did at school that day.

So, again, I would say to any parent out there who's got a young person, you know, you've really got, don't just hand them a phone or an iPad to keep them amused. You've got to be proactively engaged and keep an eye on what they're doing and be involved in as much as that. It's hard to say that when you've got teenagers, but you've got to try and insert yourself into it, you know, watch what's going on because mental health issues are so insidious and so sneaky and a young person going down that part can see no alternative. And we've got to make sure that we say, “Yeah, there's plenty of alternatives and there's better places you can be in.” But we've got to make sure they understand and parents have to take a role in that. Again, as a leadership role as a parent, you've got to step up to plate. We're all busy, but you've got to say “My son or daughter's safety is a priority.” You've got to look for those signs that they're disengaging and they're struggling and be very mindful of that because it's, you know, when we were at school, you went and picked up the encyclopedia to do a project. Now, they jump online and they've got access. They've got literally unlimited access to the globe, which was unheard of when we were kids.

Brendan Rogers: I want to talk about clarity and focus because again, as a leader, and a member of parliament, so leadership role in public office, there's so much going on all the time. How do you get that clarity and focus around the important issues that you need to support the community with?

Adam Crouch: It is tough because everything's coming at you at once. So, again, I think that's one of the reasons I do this job well, is that we joke about the “I’d only be able to read one email at a time,” but that's about setting priorities and setting an organisation. So, we have a very structured office. I treat it like a business. You know, we have KPIs. You have to have order in amongst the chaos because if you don’t, it just descends into the same chaos. So, we have very distinct job roles in my office. I have an amazing team of three people who, by the way, have very different age and backgrounds. You know, I've got three different generations in my office who all look at things differently. I always ask for their, you know, their input into things. I think that's important to. You know, you can't do this alone because you're not necessarily right.

I think anybody that walks in and says, “Well, I’m the MP. I'm always right,” is going to come a cropper at some point because you're only human. And it's so important that you listen to the people around you. We have a staff meeting usually once a week, we go through all the priorities of what we're going to do, whether it be social media and mainstream media, community engagement, you've got to have some structure to that because if you don’t, you, we wouldn't be able to deliver the outcomes. So, I bring a business perspective, I suppose, to an “un-businesslike” profession. And I've met many of my colleagues who are doing the same thing now, and they're very successful at it. That's about bringing that structure and order and priorities.

And look, sometimes you have to pivot. This is one of those jobs where you can have the whole day planned out. And one comment from a Minister at a briefing somewhere and the whole day, it has to change instantaneously. And so, you have to be prepared to move really quickly if necessary to go on a different tack. So, and again, I've got a great team. They're very good at what they do. And at the same time, you've got to be flexible enough to be able to move really quickly, to deal with whatever that issue might be. And that could be a natural disaster. It could be fixing a pothole. You never know. And that's the weird part about this world that we were talking about before. Every single day in this job is different and you try and bring structure to it as best you can.

But again, that's about listening to the people around you. I think the other thing about Parliamentarians where they've let themselves down is when they fail to start to listen to their community and the people around them. You know, my best advice comes from my staff and they are just phenomenal. Three people that work so hard and they’re so passionate about what they do. And as I said, with all the different skill sets, they're able to bring different things to the table. So, me as an MP, you need to be able to listen to them. It's the same as any other job, you know, your staff are your greatest asset, no matter what job it is you do. So, I would say that that really is the key to it. We've had some pretty scary times of things that have happened both inside our control and outside our control. It's, firstly, you've got to remain calm no matter how bad something gets, you are the public face of whatever that issue is. And you've got to stay calm, stay focused, and be professional.

Now, the last thing anyone wants is to have a leader that says something crazy at a time when people need comfort and I've seen that happen. I've seen it happen right here in New South Wales. And you just think that is not what people need to hear at the moment. You go home and you sort of pull a day apart and you go, “Oh, I could have done that differently. I could've done that differently, but you don't dwell on it. You learn from it. You hope you don't make the same mistake too many times. And look, I've seen many Parliamentarians. It's a bit that old joke about, you know, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Politics is a bit like that. You've got to learn from your experiences and also watch what others do. Look, I'm not adverse for, you know, if you can take something that someone else has done and rework it to help your people, why wouldn't you?

And that's just common sense. You know, if you can find a way to deliver a great outcome, even more efficiently, good result. So, yeah, look,  it's a tough job because I said it's every day, every, you know, you can change within an hour depending on what's happening around the State or internationally. And I think Corona’s brought everyone back to a bit of a level playing field too. I don't think it was something that came out of the blue no one was expecting and the whole country has had to really adjust. And I've seen it here on the Coast. I've seen how businesses have pivoted so quickly to ensure their survival. I think it's given everyone a bit of a reality check about what really matters and it's the same with any family that goes through a crisis. You know, when you do that, it suddenly starts bringing the real things into focus.

And look I’ve got to say, it's public knowledge. My wife got diagnosed with breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer seven years ago. And that stuff gives you real focus and real clarity because you know, you come home, you think you have a bad day. And then you look at the person that has incurable cancer and you suddenly think, yeh my day, isn't that bad. And that's that stuff that keeps it real. Look, Jill’s amazing. I'm so lucky to have someone like her in my life, because again, she gives me focus and that reality check and, you know, ‘cause occasionally you come back, you know, blowing your own trumpet and you go, there's a “Hey, buddy” moment. And that's really good. And I said, I'm no different than any other person.

Brendan Rogers: Humility is a key virtue in as far as I'm concerned in leadership. And I think it's pretty well-known. It's probably one of those virtues that is, seems to come across as least available in politicians. What do you do to keep your feet on the ground and to maintain some level of humility?

Adam Crouch: That's a really, really good question. It's the more and more responsibility you take on, the less and less people are inclined to actually give you that reality check. And you see that in politics, you know, the more responsibility you have, there are less people around you checking you, I suppose. Checking you at the door, you know,”Yes, Minister. You're wonderful, Minister.” You know, “You can't do anything wrong, Minister.” And I think that the really good Parliamentarians realise that they are in the rarefied air and they've got to keep it real and it can be something real. I do it regularly. I mean, you know, it's just about going out for a walk, detoxing from the day, realising that you can make mistakes. I'm like everybody else, you are not above the law. You are not above being called out on something. And I think one of the things that's been best for me is I always treat people the same way I expect to be treated. That really is the number one rule. You know, I would never speak to, some of the way people have spoken to me. I look back and think I would never have spoken to you like that. So, don't do it. And it works both ways. I can honestly say that in the five years I've been an MP, I think I've only ever lost my temper probably two times and I regret that. The minute you do that, no, it’s a good example. It's like we never have a fight at home or whatever else. The minute you start yelling at somebody, you've lost the argument, you've lost the moral high ground on whatever it is you're discussing. And that's where you've got to stop, walk away, calm down, and come back to it later on.

We joke about the bear pit in New South Wales Parliament. And I think that's part of the erosion of the process too. People go in there thinking they've got to live up to the reputation of this cut-and-thrust, throat-cutting bear pit exercise. And that's not what it's about. It's about going in there and working for the better outcome. And I've seen it over and over again where people yelling carry on. And it happened recently with somebody up here on the Central Coast and you know, they lost their temper and said stuff that was on Parliamentary. And that's not on. You know, people expect better of you than that. You know, anybody can swear and sling off. It is easy. Try and have a respectful, responsible discussion about something that you both vehemently disagree on. That's hard work. And it’s a bit like marriage. You know, staying married is hard work. You know, anybody can get a divorce, by the way. You know, you can walk out, “Boom, I'm outta here.”

But you know, try staying married for 22 years. That's about that whole give-and-take and respecting the other person's decision even if you don't agree about it. So, and I see that regularly. I've sat in the Speaker's chair in Parliament and you see people walk in and just literally want to pick a fight. And I've had no problems in saying, “Well, keep walking and go out the other doors, there’s no point you being in here and that's from our own side.” And that's what you see people like Gladys, you know, I've never seen her lose her temper because she realises that the minute she does that, she's losing the argument. And you know, you see these firebrand politicians screaming, carrying on. People don’t respect that. They think they’re nuts, so, as I said, sitting there and having that respectful discussion with somebody that vehemently disagrees with it, that's hard work. But that's the true quality of a good leader.

And again, keeping it real. I mean, it can be little things. I mean, my Mum's great at keeping me real. She had no hesitation. We got a local radio station up here, who I go in and see regularly, and have a chat with the guys. And you know, Mum used to listen to them every morning when I was going in and still does. And she sent a photo of me as a seven-year old nipper in my budgie smugglers. Now, if you want a keep-it-real moment, that's it. And then the Premier was up with me doing a radio interview with them and out came the photo. So, there's your Mum reaching out from a different state, helping you to keep it real, you know.

So, I think you've gotta be able enjoy the job. Yes, you've got to be serious. You can't take yourself too seriously because if you did, you would get swept up in the hype that is being a politician. And it's not about that. That's what I'd say to anybody who wants to do it. If anybody wants to put themselves in this weird world of politics and let me tell you it is strange, you need to a) not take yourself too seriously, b) be prepared to cop all sorts of weird abuse and just let it go. You’ve got to let it wash over you. Like any tough job, when you've got 55,000 people, all of them don't agree. So, you've gotta be able to work through those sorts of things. And it's different to being in a normal corporate world where everybody's, you know, the Board and everyone else is working together to deliver the same outcome here. It's like half the people don't want the other outcomes. So, it's always confrontational. It's about how you de-escalate the confrontation to deliver their best outcomes. And walk away, have time with friends.

Our friends are really important to us. I got to say, and they respect the privacy too. So, look, if we go with friends, you know, it doesn't get posted on social media. It's just quiet time to reflect and just enjoy your friendship with people and have a bit of a laugh and, you know, have a few glasses of wine and just chillax.

Brendan Rogers: You didn't use the word teamwork, but you mentioned working together. If we think about teamwork, teamwork ultimately is a group of people working towards a common goal. Does teamwork really have a place in politics? Can they be a real team?

Adam Crouch: I always find it a bit cliche to say “team”. I think, again, even inside a political body, you've got different forces who have different opinions and it can be over any issue. So, you know, having party room meetings can be pretty interesting because you've got very different perspectives, even in the one side. So, I think teamwork's the wrong word, because usually if you're in a team, everybody in the team’s all running for the same goal.

In parliament and politics, it's not necessarily the case. And you see it play out all the time, again, in the media, you know. There'll be a leak from the party room about somebody saying X, Y, and Z. So, I think teamwork's the wrong description. It's all about working collaboratively to try and get the best outcome. And as I said,  even in political parties there’s not always the concurrence of everybody working together to the same result, you know. So, it's a bit more complicated.

I wish it were more team-orientated because, again, that means that everybody's effectively working to the same goal. Politics is much tougher than that and it's a lot more negotiation involved. And again, that's the skill set to be able to sit down with somebody within your same group who vehemently disagrees with you. And you've got to come up with a happy medium and we've had some pretty tough ones. I mean, whether it be greyhounds, abortion, you name it. I mean, we've had some really tough stuff and you may not necessarily agree with the person sitting next to you, but you've got to respect their position on it and their opinions on it. I think that's really vital for Parliamentarians again, to be prepared to listen to, not necessarily agree, but listen to the other opinion and take it on board and respect that person's position. When you lose the respect for your colleagues, what's the public going to think of you?

Brendan Rogers: I know there's lots of traits that leaders need to have, but in politics particularly, and the role that you do, if you had to pick one key trait that is so important to have, if you want to be a good politician or go into politics, what would you say that is?

Adam Crouch: That's tough because there's two that I think would sort of link in together. One, the ability to listen to everybody and two, empathy. You've got to be able to empathise with people in this job. And I almost think empathy is almost more important than the ability to listen. You've got to be, if you don't listen to people, you're not representing them, but at the same time, you've got to be also empathetic to so many different perspectives on every issue. So, the two of them sort of go together. They're probably the two key issues, because if you can do that, people will respect you. If you don't do that, people don't respect you. In this job, people have to be able to respect the person that's leading them.

Brendan Rogers: I want to wrap it up. So, what is that bit of advice or that key learning for you over this time and particularly around the leadership space?

Adam Crouch: It's been an incredibly steep learning curve. As I said, going from a corporate world into a political world, they're two totally different things. Absolutely totally different. But at the same time, you can take the knowledge that you've learned through a corporate world and you can mould that into being a good Parliamentarian. Not a day goes by where I don’t feel absolutely blessed to have this job. As I said, I get up every day, even on my worst day at work, it's still rewarding. And this is why it's such a privilege. And I think this is why a lot of Parliamentarians do it for so long. They've also got to realise when everybody’s got a use by date. So, that's important too. I think people need to keep it real. They need to realise when it's time to hand the baton over. Because, then, it comes onto the next group to bring their ideas and their passion and their enthusiasm to whatever it might be. It's an incredible job, the leadership.

Look, like I'm lucky. I said, I've got a good leader. I mean, I've got a great leader and she's one of the best I've ever seen. A lot of people have said to me look, what’s the Whip's job and the Whip’s job’s interesting. It's a bit like being the Head Prefect, I suppose. It's not quite as ruthless as Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart. So, I don't run around having people knocked off, but again, so effectively, I play the role as being the Premier’s conscience, the Premier’s disciplinarian, but it's really easy to do that when you've got someone you respect. And again, I've got to say, in Gladys Berejiklian, I found a lady that I had the most amazing respect for because she's the real deal.

You know, she's so passionate about it. And look, she could be earning millions of dollars more doing something other than what she's doing, but she's made a decision of what she wants to do. And I admire her and here's a lady that when she started primary school, couldn't speak English. So she's a really good case in point that if you focus on what you want to do and what you want to achieve, the sky's the limit. And we live in the most amazing nation in the world where a girl who's come from background where she couldn't speak English has become the leader of the most popular state in the nation. So, this is what I would say. It's like, it’s a combination of a lot of things.

And I'm so privileged to be able to work so closely with her. When you get to spend time with people like that, you try and take away and learn from them as well. I mean, you never stop learning through life, but when you're lucky enough to have people like that around you, you can take some of that in. And she's outstanding. And I would say this about government. You know, when you go into government, it's a tough gig. You need to know that when you go into it. And that's what I would say to anybody who wants to do this sort of role. You need to know it's going to be the toughest job they're ever going to do in life, but also probably, the most rewarding.

And again, I'd just say, “Look. You look at good leaders around you.” And as I've said early on this when we started, you know, I was lucky enough to grow up in the 80’s. We had some really strong leaders and I think that's rubbed off on me to some degree. I have a good relationship with my Parliamentary colleagues. I'm firm, but fair. I think that's a good description for it. I'm firm, but fair. And I wouldn't ask any of my Parliamentary colleagues to do something. ‘Cause when just by way of background is when they're in Parliament for three days, they're mine. So, it's my job to make sure they do what they need to do, when they need to do it. And we tell them what to do. So, it's quite a strong role in running. So, I run effectively the people movement for the government for the three days we're in there. So, it's a tough gig because you've got some very strong personalities in there. So, you do it, you do it well, you be firm but fair about it. People respect you for that. And again, I would never speak to someone or treat someone other than the way I would expect to be treated.

And I think the Premier’s the same, anybody in that building. I mean, so you've got different sides of politics, but I'd say that 98% of them are there for exactly the same reasons that I'm there. And sometimes, the frustration boils over on both sides. But, I think, generally, everyone's made sacrifices, both privately and publicly to do those sorts of things, but they do it for the right reasons.

Brendan Rogers: I'm not going to ask you how can people get hold of you. ‘Cause they just need to Google Adam Crouch and the number comes up to your office and stuff. But what I just want to say is the energy that you have in your role, I've seen that firsthand. I don't know where it comes from, but you're just always on. You're always happy. You're always smiling. And to me, that just says exactly what you said. You love your job and that just comes through in everything you do. So, it's been a privilege and honour to learn a bit more about what's going on in that head of yours and that face around leadership and teamwork.

Adam Crouch: I hope I've been able to answer all those questions, but I'm always happy to come back if you want to do more. You mentioned before, I'm always smiling. And that’s because I'm doing a job I love. And I think that's the other thing. You only get one shot at life. You don't get a do-over, you don’t go through however many years you've got on this planet and then say, “Oh geez, I hated that. I want to do something different.” You only get one shot at.

So, one thing I would say to everybody is never be afraid to go after what you want to do, because as I said, you only get one crack, so do something you love. And I mean, I've been so lucky. I mean, I literally have got the job I always effectively dreamed of doing. And even on my worst day, I still feel fantastic. I go home and this is what I say to my team, “You can't fix every problem every day. But if you go home knowing you've done everything you possibly can that day to help, whatever it is you're doing, you've done a good job.” And that's what’s it for anybody. Doesn't matter what you're doing.

Brendan Rogers: Crouchy, thanks for being a guest on The Cultural of Things podcast, mate. Really appreciate it.

Adam Crouch: It's a pleasure, Brendan.

(Music plays)

Brendan Rogers: As I said in the introduction, this episode was not about politics. I wanted to bring to you a leadership perspective from someone in public office. Why was this important to me? Because Parliamentarians are people just like you or I. They are doing a job just like you or I, and mostly they have a passion for helping people.

It is true that the actions of Parliamentarians on all sides of politics don't always support this passion, but how much does social media play in demonising them and their roles?

For me, COVID-19 has shown that parliamentarians on both sides of politics at Local, State and Federal Levels can work together when they have to for the common good of the community and show good leadership.

I hope we can see more of this in the future.

These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Crouchy.

My first key takeaway. Leadership is about helping others. Crouchy mentioned how politics is the business of people. In his role, his key focus is on helping people by delivering on the commitments and improvements to help the community. True leaders put other people's interests ahead of their own.

My second key takeaway. Leaders focus on what matters most. They are clear on the priorities and don't allow themselves to get distracted. He mentioned the weekly team meeting structure so he and his team know what they need to do and where they're up to. Crouchy also referred to the perils of social media and the distraction it can be. He doesn't allow himself to get caught up in those social media stoushes. If he does, it means he and his team are taking precious time away from delivering for the community.

My third key takeaway. Leaders stay grounded. Parliamentarians can get caught up in the role and struggle with humility. This is dangerous ground to play on and will lead to “me” decisions rather than the right decisions for the community. They make mistakes like anybody else. And they're definitely not above the law. It's also important to treat people how you want to be treated. In Crouchy’s words, “Keep it real. Otherwise, your Mum may pull out an old picture of you in your budgie smugglers.”

So, in summary, my three key takeaways were leadership is about helping others, leaders focus on what matters most, leaders stay grounded.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.