January 27, 2014 3 Comments
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character then give him power”.
The 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).
I have long bemoaned the low quality of leadership that we have to tolerate with our politicians (see “We get the leaders we deserve” posted February 2, 2011), and in the 2 years since I wrote this piece, it has hardly improved.
In France, Francois Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as President of the Republic in May 2012, becoming only the second ever Socialist President. As the first one was Francois Mitterand who served 1981-1995, it begs the question as to whether the selection process used for leadership of the French Socialist Party is as much based on the “prenom” as it is on actual leadership capabilities. This is somewhat supported by the fact that President Hollande has managed to barely stumble along in his term thus far, attracting the worst approval ratings of any French President in recorded history. This currently stands at 22%, but it is interesting to note that it hovered around 20% for a long time, rising 2% when the French Press recently announced that he may have actually been having an affair with an attractive French actress. For someone with the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” (Mister Pudding), he does definitely manage to involve himself with attractive women in affairs of state.
As I have only ever considered Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore (and Nelson Mandela of South Africa) as having exhibited true leadership qualities (rather than just political power), I have spent some time thinking about why these are so rare in our politicians.
In doing so, I have now come to the conclusion that “leadership”, as we think of it say in a business or military context, is actually beyond the reach of politicians, and that I have probably been wrong in believing that we can expect true leadership from any of them.
Even the generally accepted definitions are different.
Leadership is defined as “… a process of influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task …”.
Political Leadership is defined as “… responsibility for the public administration, civil aspects and policy making for a body politic (country, state, local body), as distinguished from the law or the military.
I believe that the biggest difference that exists is the ability to define and control the environment that they have to work within.
A leader has a vision of what can be achieved and then creates the environment needed to do so. This can be as mighty as wanting to conquer the known world as evinced by Alexander the Great, who by the age of 30 had created one of the greatest empires of the ancient world stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. No-one of his ilk followed in his footsteps, as after his death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart. The true leader has the ability and charisma to inspire others that are needed for success to buy-in to the vision, and to be part of its execution. There is no question that a leader has to also work with the stakeholders that can affect his ability to lead. A CEO needs to convince his board, his shareholders and his ecosystem of his vision for the future and the benefits that will accrue to all involved, but once s/he has garnered their support has the ability to forge ahead, with review but little interruption. However, a leader can also exist at a much more micro level such as someone stepping in to solve a problem in a business process, or a senior teacher taking upon themselves the driving of new curricula. However, even this level of leadership still needs to exhibit the same leadership characteristics that are needed in the larger leadership roles.
On the other hand, political leaders are basically legislators and policy makers who have to work within established areas, and whose main objectives are around their ability to make small tweaks to the status quo that are acceptable to their supporters, and that are not too antagonistic to their opponents, thereby hoping that they can stay in their position of elected power. They may have a vision for the future, being whatever ideology or –ism that they subscribe to, but have little ability to achieve it fully under modern political environments. Mohamed Morsi, the fifth President of Egypt, found this out recently when he tried to drive Egypt towards the doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was subsequently removed by the military after mass protests.
I have realised that it is possible for a leader to be a politician and conversely a politician can also be a leader, but that this combination of both done well in the same person is very rare, as their basic mind-sets, driving forces and core characteristics are totally different.
I have therefore decided to stop looking for leadership from our politicians. I have accepted that politicians can make adjustments to the conditions that exist, and that in doing so they can deeply impact where I choose to live and how I am able to live there, but that I will be unlikely to have the privilege of living under a political regime that will inspire me to want to follow them.
As said by French General and President General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians”.