- Date published:
11:12 pm, April 8th, 2019 - 122 comments
Categories: accountability, Deep stuff, leadership, politicans, Politics - Tags: individualism, personality traits, public expectation, reputation, society, trust
We treat our political leaders as if they are some kind of super-humans and yet we seem to distrust and disrespect politicians. Regular reputational attacks from friend and foe alike are a professional hazard of being a political leader. The PM and Ministers often cop a lot of flak for not knowing the correct answer quickly enough to every single question or for allegedly floundering with (new) policies. The PM, for example, has been criticised by many for not being knowledgeable enough on the economy. The Leader of the Opposition is treated even worse in some aspects. Yet they are ordinary people like you and me.
It seems though we hold political leaders to a different standard than, say, CEOs of DHBs who are generally not medically qualified and wouldn’t have a clue of how to deliver a baby, administer an epidural, or have intimate knowledge of every single and detailed aspect of how the whole place is run.
Yes, people in charge need to have some base knowledge of their portfolios and they need to be able to explain it to the people and be held accountable. However, leadership comes in many styles and has to fit the circumstances. Micro management does not work in large complex organisations. These require teamwork, collegiality, collaboration, consultation, information gathering, communication, etc. A leader may articulate a shared mission or vision, to the (internal) team as well as to the (external) stakeholders, but in all likelihood they won’t have singlehandedly designed it. They may determine strategy, but this is usually also very much a team effort. Do we really believe that only 26 Ministers and 3 Under-Secretaries run the whole of our Government?
In our representative democracy, political leaders by default have to be inclusive and make decisions for and on behalf of many. However, it is impossible to please everyone all the time. There is always the team on the other side that is setting trickery traps and waiting for gotcha moments. The MSM too lives off controversy and scandal and their ‘star performers’ love nothing better than landing cheap shots on political leaders and catching them out on minutiae.
When a politician we are not rooting for is put on the back foot, we can savour the moment and briefly crack a smile. Perhaps it makes us feel superior when a leader is ridiculed and marginalised even ever so briefly. Over time, these cheap shots can erode our respect for politicians. Unreasonably, we may start to think less of them, hold them in lower esteem, we lose trust in them, and they lose authority. Authority is nothing but a mutual agreement, a contract, based on our trust and our expectation that they do what they say they’ll do, keep their promises, and generally deliver policy that ensures that our lives remain predictable, stable, safe and secure, and, above all, prosperous (AKA BAU or status quo). If we cannot trust the ones who have vowed to serve us whom can we trust? It is yet another symptom of our changing society where the individual reigns supreme as Margaret Thatcher once famously said:
They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.
In this era of hyper-individualism, self-interest, self-responsibility and so-called meritocracy it is not surprising that we focus on if not obsess about our leaders – it can lead to unhealthy and unrealistic derangement syndromes. However, I do find this ironic, contradictory even, that on the one hand, we put the individual at the centre of everything but, at the same time, we demand top-down hierarchical leadership to create the space and freedom for the individual. The collective has to bow to the whims of the individual – spot the incongruence. A similar contradiction exists in the so-called ‘free market’ where the Government must regulate so that people can go unencumbered about their business, literally, in the knowledge and security that the Government (read: Taxpayer) will save them when the going gets tough, protect them from overly aggressive or hostile competitors, and safe their bacon when disaster strikes. This is an ideology based on outcomes, not on principles.
I think we should adjust our expectations of political leaders to reflect that in this day and age the old chain of command is outmoded. The best leaders are those people who can inspire, motivate, and support others to be their best, who are authentic and not afraid to show their emotions and who act with honesty and integrity. They are inclusive and make emotional connections with others – when was the last time you had an emotional connection with your boss or CEO? They build bridges based on trust, mutual respect, and the many things we have in common rather than magnifying the few minor differences that do not separate us unless we choose to. Such leaders shine without hogging the limelight and they treat others with respect and empathy. After all, we are all human and trying our best to make this world a better place, aren’t we? In a way, we are all leaders in our own right, each one of us.
So, what should we expect from our political leaders? Generally*, how far off the mark are they?
Postscript: Andrew Geddis in his most recent blog touched upon an interested aspect of this, which is that the House of Representatives has the power to punish those who they deem to hold the House and its MPs in contempt. I argued above that there is indeed a slow and creeping contempt occurring and that this near universal.
*Please do not take this as an invitation to rip into your ‘favourite’ politician or policy or, conversely, to propagandize your favourite political hobbyhorse.