Listen: Mike Baird’s honest chat with Dwayne Jeffries about faith, family and life at the lonely top.
If you base your opinion of Mike Baird on social media alone, you might think he’s permanently living it up, having one fabulous moment after another.
There he is, showing Prince Charles around Sydney, grabbing a selfie with his teenage daughter at a Taylor Swift gig, sharing high fives with his workmate Gladys, posing in a football jersey, and catching waves on his surfboard for a charity event. But the NSW Premier’s easy-going online image doesn’t reveal his job’s tough and lonely moments—of which he says there are plenty.
In an interview with Hope 103.2’s Dwayne Jeffries, Mr Baird said the old saying “it’s lonely at the top” was no cliché when it came to being the leader of the state.
“People have said that the loneliest places are often in the busiest rooms,” he said. “And I’ve felt that, I really have.”
His Longing To Be With Family More
Watch: Premier Mike Baird gets honest with Dwayne Jeffries about the loneliness of political life
The Premier’s been known to get emotional in interviews when asked about the value he puts on his family.
“I think when you’re considering many issues that are very difficult to determine, and they’re piled up, you haven’t seen your family or friends for a while, and you’re going from event to event—the weight of some of those decisions and thinking time can just be incredibly lonely,” he told Hope 103.2.
“There is, within all of us, this deep sense of needing fellowship. We need human relationship, and if you haven’t seen those who are near and dear to you, and don’t have the capacity to engage with your friends, [it can be lonely].”
Protecting His Family Time
Two of the Premier’s highest priorities are family and faith; he’s a father of three who once studied to become a church minister. So he battles with the tension between being in one of the state’s busiest roles, and yet wishing he could be at home more.
It’s “a wrestle” to get the balance right, but he says he and his staff work hard to protect time for his family, church, and rest.
“I think you’re a much better Premier or leader if you spend more time with your kids and your wife and your friends,” he said. “I mean if you’re a real person, you understand how people are thinking, and you’re happier in yourself, and you’ve got more energy for the challenges you’re facing.
“So I think you have to be selfish in terms of your time for those that matter most to you. Otherwise the diary dictates to you.”
Getting Honest About Postnatal Depression
Prioritising family is something Mike hasn’t always got right; recently he publicly admitted to letting his wife Kerryn down when she was suffering postnatal depression after having their first child 18 years ago.
“When I reflect back at that, it’s not something I’m proud of,” he said.
While he “had no idea what Post Natal depression was” at the time, he failed to support her in what was obviously a tough time. She would call him in tears for no reason in the middle of the day, and struggled to do the simplest of tasks in the home.
Mike buried himself in work.
“It was incredibly difficult behaviour to understand, and rather than try and understand, I chose to divert off back to my career,” he said. “That was a safe haven.
“One of the things that I’ve got the biggest regret [about] at the birth of our first daughter, was really only spending two or three days at home, and then going back to [work].”
He said he can’t even remember what work project it was, that was supposedly so important at the time.
“My beautiful daughter has now just turned 18 and grown into this incredible young woman,” he said.
“I should’ve spent more time as she came into this world, and I hope by talking out about this, that I’m potentially reminding men that there’s much more to life than your career.”
The Bairds: A Family Of High-Flyers
Mike Baird’s not the only high-flyer in his family; his sister Julia is a journalist who present’s ABC TV’s The Drum while younger brother Steve is an executive for Virgin Australia.
Of his brother, Mike said “you cannot meet more of a champion”, and added that he felt “very blessed” to have “an incredible family and amazing parents”.
But Mike plays down the fame aspect of his family, and talks up his quiet-achiever mother more than anyone else.
“In our family I think the true heroes are probably the lower profile people, to be honest,” he said. “My mum is someone who’s the rock on which the family’s built. She’s never wanted any limelight. She spent pretty much her whole life looking after others and serving others.
“So she’s obviously very inspirational.”
In The Footsteps Of His Father, Bruce Baird
It’s well known that Mike Baird follows in his father Bruce’s footsteps when it comes to his political career. Bruce served in both the State and Federal governments in the 1980s and 90s, and though he had an unsuccessful tilt at being NSW Premier, he said at the time of Mike’s election that he was glad his son had outshone him.
Bruce, who now serves as Patron for the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney, had roles as the NSW Minister for Transport, Minister for Tourism & Roads, and Minister for the Sydney Olympic Bid. The latter stands out in Mike’s memory.
“I remember once, [my father] came to our dinner table and said “Nick Greiner has asked me to lead a bid for the Olympics. What do you think about that?”
I remember once, he came to our dinner table and said “Nick Greiner has asked me to lead a bid for the Olympics”.
“And I just leapt out of my chair saying, “you’ve gotta do it, that is awesome! Imagine Sydney hosting the Olympics!”
“So being right there at the genesis of that, and then seeing my father sort of lead it, I mean I’ve never seen anyone work so hard,” he said. “So [he was] inspirational on a number of levels.”
But despite his heritage, Mike didn’t have a childhood sense of political destiny; in fact as a youngster he wasn’t the least bit interested in becoming busy and stressed like his dad.
He usually paid only “partial interest” in his dad’s political discussions and was more focussed on cricket scores, girls, surfing, and the idea that he might become a professional sportsman.
A Growing Desire To Serve Christ
Even as a young adult, growing deeper in his Christian faith, he wanted to serve God yet couldn’t see how that could be done while working in the marketplace.
“For many years I did separate my faith and my work,” he said. “I’d go to church, I would lead a youth group and a Bible study group, and that was my “ministry time”, and then I’d put my tools down there and then go to work.
“The understanding that I can serve and reflect my faith in my work environment, my professional environment—it took a while for me to realise that. I wrestled with how would I live out my life, and what did I want to do.”
How God & Faith Led Mike Baird Into Politics
Watch: Mike Baird chats about growing up, and his desire to serve God.
His “call” into public service didn’t come until age 27, when he left his job as a merchant banker and headed for Regent College in Canada to study the Bible. He learnt from teachers like the famous writer Eugene Peterson, and his aim was to become a church minister.
And that’s where his “call” to politics first came.
“I wrote a paper on what brought me to this point and how I thought I would serve God from the days forward,” he explained.
I’d been running from that. Because I’d seen my father do it, and I thought, “no, no, that’s not for me”. But that moment turned it on its head
“In that I said I look forward to serving as a church minister. And the man who marked the paper [Professor Loren Wilkinson] put in ink underneath it, “or in Australian politics”. And that was the point where I said, “Really?”
“I’d been running from that. Because I’d seen my father do it, and I thought, no, no, that’s for him, that’s not for me. But that moment turned it on its head.”
That same essay now famously hangs on his office wall in a frame. It was the start of what led to his political career.
“I thought well actually, maybe; I am passionate about trying to make a difference in my community and state, and I’ve seen the good side together with the bad side,” he said.
“So maybe that’s where I bring everything together: what I’ve learnt, my skills, experiences, my passion for community and hopefully, serving with my faith. That intersection was cemented in that year.”
So Who Do You Look Up To When You’re Premier?
As well as those Bible College lecturers, Mike Baird has numerous people he turns to for inspiration, including his own father, and politicians like Peter Costello.
But his mentors aren’t just in the political sphere; business leaders are a source of wisdom for the Premier, too.
“I think that wherever you are, there’ll be leaders that you will look at, that will inspire you or you’d really like to understand how they’ve got to the position they have,” he said.
“I’ve always been pretty in forward in trying to spend time with them and listen. I think you can’t have enough mentors in your life.”
Advice For Young Aspiring Leaders
For young people hoping to be our nation’s future leaders, Mike Baird offered the following advice: “You can achieve much more than you give yourself credit for”.
As someone who often underestimated himself in the past, he says he would tell his younger self to believe for more.
“You might set a goal in terms of what you think you can achieve and what you can do, but if you push yourself, you can potentially do more—and not only that, you can do much, much more,” he said.
“If you think you can go to “X” position, well, aim for “Triple X”, because you will surprise yourself. There’s no doubt about it.”