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.
I was upset yesterday to learn of the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the founder of Reddit and RSS particularly so because it ties into society’s debate about internet freedom. Swartz had been charged by the US government essentially for stealing academic papers in an attempt to make them freely available.
I find this somewhat disturbing as for the most part the taxpayer pays for academics to conduct research which is then published in private journals for which the taxpayer must pay again for access.
Even worse, universities pay faculty to conduct and publish research which is given away to the private publishers for free, and then purchased back from them by the university to put in the library.
This is just perhaps one more facet of the education system that is desperately in need of innovation. While some attempts at innovations such as the flipped classroom model, massively open online courses, online textbook publishing, and open journals have been tried it is still a very closed system.
The system protects who gets in, who gets out, how they learn, how they teach, research and publish. Because it is publicly funded we should deserve more but the system is entirely closed, expensive at every entry point, and self protecting.
Aaron’s death is a pathetic reminder of how a closed system can bully those who try to innovate from within or without.
Yes I know it is a few days late but I suspect that people are only now getting back to work in earnest. I wanted to start the new year by telling a story of a friend’s father, a man who is 88 years old.
My friend will often go over to his father’s place and find he is eating something new, something strange like creamed spinach. It turns out that his father long ago decided that he would do whatever is necessary to live a long and healthy life and so if some research said that eating creamed spinach would make you live a longer and healthier life, he’ll start eating creamed spinach.
The point isn’t about creamed spinach but that his father is very goal oriented and has long believed that you get somewhere in life by setting goals. Every year since he was very young he has written out his goals for the year and every year at the end of the year he ticks off those goals he accomplished.
He started life in a family of modest means and a goal he set one year was to buy a winter coat. Another goal one year was to make two friends. Over these many years, this man has written down and kept a record of his annual goals thus comprising a heart warming and inspirational history of a man’s desire to live a happy, long, productive life.
Most of his friends have passed away and he relies on support from his family but he still at 88, starts the year by setting goals.
If you read anything on goal setting it will say that after you establish some goals you’ll need to make a plan. But if you look back over your life to date, can you name five really significant things that you accomplished as a result of a detailed plan?
I suspect that many of us wander through life with very loose plans, some of which may be written down but most of which reside in our minds. I have never been a proponent of detailed planning but as I wander from one objective to another I wonder if perhaps I’ve given too little attention to planning.
In one of my recent nocturnal net surfing forays (without a plan) I blundered upon a write-up on Thomas Edison. You know, prolific inventor, rabid entrepreneur, holder of 1,093 patents etc. etc.
What I didn’t know about Edison was that he was a rabid planner. Apparently he made detailed plans for every trial and faithfully recorded both the plans and the results in notebooks. While he was meticulous and scientific, he wasn’t averse to trying inspired guesswork. What was key to his success though was that as he said it “I never did anything by accident.”
So maybe the rest of us have been wrong. Maybe we’ve ended up where we are mostly through accident because we didn’t have detailed plans. Maybe if we had been better planners we would have ended up more like Edison.
Well, December is upon us and I’m trying to figure out some goals for next year. No doubt you’re trying to do the same. To give you some inspiration I have included a TED Talk that I thought might inspire you. If you get this blog in an email, click on the blog link to see the video.