Of the three ways that an aspiring politician can show leadership (Policy, Politics, Personality) the most powerful way is through personality. This Liberal leadership campaign shows this in spades.
For the most part, the party has a bunch of candidates who are genuinely likeable people. But only one of them is really loveable and of course, that’s Justin. Whether it’s because we’ve known him since he was a kid, watched him grow up, love his hair, his name or whatever, he has absolute star power.
And this is what people fundamentally want in a leader. They want an emotional connection with their leader. This works in business, sports, entertainment and certainly in politics. People crave that emotional connection.
When the emotional connection isn’t strong then they’ll make a decision between policy and politics but when the emotions are there, the other two don’t matter. Think back to Martin, Dion, and Ignatieff. No emotional connection there. What we have in Trudeau though is two out of three, a potential leader who is good at politics and who has a magnetic personality. He may yet surprise us with real policies but for now, two out of three ain’t bad.
Every now and then we get a leader who has all three, Policies, Politics, and Personality but that is rare. You can think to John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and yes, maybe even Pierre Trudeau. Since these are rare, if you have to find two out of three, Personality and Politics are the two to go for. As a leader, you can always surround yourself with others who can generate policies.
I got a few emails last night about how I should comment on Margaret Thatcher’s death and her qualities as a leader. I was reluctant to do so as there is little I can add to such a well covered topic. My first thought was that I would rather write a piece on the leadership qualities of Annette Funicello who also died yesterday. But I figured I could make her story a cautionary tail for those who aspire to leadership positions.
The press have gone out of their way to characterize Margaret Thatcher as a great leader. Words like conviction, tough, disciplined, focused, determined, strong are used all over the place to describe her. There is a lot about Margaret that would characterize her a great leader.
Her lack of leadership capabilities in one major area was her downfall though. She was great at setting a vision, getting results, inspiring people (although she did not earn their love and affection). She was very skilled at managing down as her personal staff will attest.
But she was lousy at managing out. Her role in the British system was “Primus Inter Pares” Unlike tother political systems where the party elects the leader, in Britain, it is the caucus and tradition holds that the Prime Minister is, “First Among Equals.” (At least this is how the other cabinet members see it.)
She had a habit of running roughshod over cabinet members, the caucus and civil servants. As John O’Sullivan describes in the Globe today, she Kicked Up and Kissed Down. This is what eventually ended her reign, her inability to manage out.
Your followers will put up with rough leadership as long as you are producing results but the minute that ends, you’re toast if you’re no good at managing out.
The Liberal party’s selection of a new leader is a fascinating look into what people want to see in a leader and this campaign in particular provides an interesting laboratory to study leadership.
In business, academia, etc leaders are not selected by their followers but by their predecessors so there is nothing really to study about leadership selection as it relates to followers. In past Liberal leadership races it was often predecessors who tried to influence leadership selection and this is one factor that got the party into trouble. In this campaign though, the waring factions of the party have been silenced so the winner won’t be selected by predecessors.
In actual elections, there are many other forces that come into play when selecting a prime minister or a president. Real elections are often about competing visions but in this leadership race you have a group of people who share a very similar vision or passion. While there may be minor differences in vision, it is harder to make this a major point of differentiation when there are more fundamental agreements than differences.
Real elections are often fought on a record of results so studying leadership selection here is confusing as well. In this campaign, it is difficult to differentiate based upon results. No one has screwed up royally in the past, and none of the candidates has a record of results that would provide a substantial differentiating factor.
That leaves it to three dimensions upon which a leader can be identified. Those are Policy, Politics, and Personality. Over this week, I’m gong to try and look at each of these areas and see how each has influenced the race. ( I should warn you in advance that I actually watched all candidate speeches on Saturday to try and figure this stuff out.)
A while ago I wrote a post on Evidence Based Management. It’s great to see that charitable foundations are also using these techniques to make funding decisions. The following story comes from Macleans.
“Stern offers up an example from the early years of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when it decided, largely based on guesswork, that smaller-sized high schools would improve student outcomes. Grants of $1 billion were handed out to build small schools or restructure existing schools into smaller units. But five years and 1,500 schools later, a comprehensive review revealed that all this money had done very little for student results. Math scores actually suffered.
“From the ashes [of the small-schools scheme], the foundation developed new requirements that all Gates projects and grantees be subject to rigorous and veriﬁable measurement,” Stern writes. “The Gates Foundation now maintains a department whose sole function is to measure and analyze results.” In other words, the Gates Foundation substantially increased the size of its administrative overhead to ensure its efforts were cost-effective and productive.”
Why as a society do we elect charismatic leaders as opposed to leaders who we can respect?
Both Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion were leaders with gravitas, people who could be respected for their contributions to society before entering politics. They failed however in wider elections.
We now have a very talented group of candidates for the liberal leadership. Marc Garneau, George Tackach, and Martha Hall Findlay all have backgrounds worthy of respect. And yet the purported leader is a man with very little work experience who has however, a great name, a fine head of hair and charisma that knows no bounds.
In the business world too, we often prefer the smiling charismatic and perhaps glib leader to one with gravitas.
Perhaps the ever-present prolific media is changing what we respect. Maybe now, respect is earned from image, not from deeds, from relationships, not from results.
While the Occupy movement railed against the excesses of the 1% and it has become normal to diss those who work on Wall Street, why is it that Warren Buffet is often seen as the successor to Walter Cronkite as the Most Trusted Man in America?
Well for Warren, life isn’t about money. He still lives in the same house he bought in 1958 for $31,000. He wears off the shelf white shirts with rumpled collars and he would much rather sit down to dinner with a cheeseburger and a Cherry Coke than go to a fancy restaurant.
The key to the trust that the world puts in him is several fold:
- He is respected for his success
- His modest spending habits come across as avoiding selfishness.
- He accepts responsibility for his actions and results, whether good or bad.
Above all, I think the key is that he isn’t greedy. He isn’t out for himself and that separates him from so many other leaders who seem to be out for themselves first.