National Leaders’ thinking: Australian Prime Ministers

How complex are the interview responses of the last four Australian prime ministers? How does the complexity of their responses compare to the complexity of U.S. presidents’ responses?

Special thanks to my Australian colleague, Aiden M. A. Thornton, PhD. Cand., for his editorial and research assistance.

  • The complexity level of leaders’ thinking is one of the strongest predictors of leader advancement and success. See the National Leaders Intro for evidence.
  • Many of the issues faced by national leaders require principles thinking (level 12 on the skill scale/LecticalScale, illustrated in the figure below). See the National Leaders Intro for the rationale.
  • To accurately measure the complexity level of someone’s thinking (on a given topic), we need examples of their best thinking. In this case, that kind of evidence wasn’t available. As an alternative, my colleagues and I have chosen to examine the complexity level of prime ministers’ responses to interviews with prominent journalists.
The complexity of many issues faced by national leaders is at early principles thinking and above.

Benchmarks for complexity scores

  • Most high school graduates perform somewhere in the middle of level 10.
  • The average complexity score of American adults is in the upper end of level 10, somewhere in the range of 1050–1080.
  • The average complexity score for senior leaders in large corporations or government institutions is in the upper end of level 11, in the range of 1150–1180.
  • The average complexity score (reported in our National Leaders Study) for the three U. S. presidents that preceded President Trump was 1137.
  • The average complexity score (reported in our National Leaders Study) for President Trump was 1053.
  • The difference between 1053 and 1137 generally represents a decade or more of sustained learning. (If you’re a new reader and don’t yet know what a complexity level is, check out the National Leaders’ Series introductory article.)

The data

In this article, we examine the thinking of the four most recent prime ministers of Australia — Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull. For each prime minister, we selected 3 interviews, based on the following criteria: They

  1. included questions that requested explanations of the Prime Minister’s perspective; and
  2. were either conducted within the Prime Minister’s first year in office or were the earliest interviews we could locate that met the first two criteria.


Based on the mean media score, and understanding that politicians generally attempt, like media, to tailor messages for their audience, we hypothesized that prime ministers would aim for a similar range. Since the mean score for the Australian media sample was lower by 15 points than the mean score for the U. S. media sample, we anticipated that the average score received by Australian prime ministers would be a bit lower than the average score received by U. S. presidents.

The results

The Table below shows the complexity scores received by the four prime ministers. (Contact us if you would like a copy of the interviews.) Complexity level scores are shown in the same order as interview listings.

Results for four Australian prime ministers

Comparison of U.S. and Australian results

There was less variation in the complexity scores of Australian prime ministers than in the complexity scores of U. S. presidents. Mean scores for the U. S. presidents ranged from 1054–1163 (109 points), whereas the range for Australian prime ministers was 1111–1133 (22 points). If we exclude President Trump as an extreme outlier, the mean score for U. S. Presidents was 12 points higher than for Australian prime ministers.

Comparison of results for U. S. presidents and Australian prime ministers


In the first article of this series, I discussed the importance of attempting to “hire” leaders whose complexity level scores are a good match for the complexity level of the issues faced in their roles. I then posed two questions:

  • How does the complexity level of national leaders’ responses relate to the complexity of the issues they discuss?”

Award-winning educator, scholar, & consultant, Dr. Theo Dawson, discusses a wide range of topics related to learning and development.