What sort of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship do we want?

How those in charge of our lives re­spond to a chang­ing world is key, says Neil Mclen­nan

The Scotsman - - The Scotsman 200 -

Pre-elec­tion me­dia at­ten­tion al­ways fo­cusses on that much used word lead­er­ship. A num­ber of post-elec­tion dis­cus­sions are now open: May’s lead­er­ship scru­ti­nised, ‘Cor­byn bounce’ en­ter­ing pop­u­lar mem­ory for some and a fo­cus on Stur­geon’s lead­er­ship of any Indyref2.

How­ever, pol­i­tics aside, what lead­er­ship les­sons can be drawn from it all?

‘Strong and sta­ble’ was much bandied about be­fore the elec­tion. This of­fers some­thing telling about the Bri­tish sys­tem. The sys­tem, and it seems our needs, de­mand out­right win­ners.

There is some­thing closely aligned in our psy­che about pol­i­tics and com­mand and con­trol styles and ap­proaches. We have an ob­ses­sion with the largest party in our elec­toral sys­tem and the strong and steep hi­er­ar­chy where the leader is cen­tral.

Mean­while, Euro­pean par­lia­ments have shown that coali­tions can form and work. The Scot­tish par­lia­ment has been based on such a model, al­beit ma­jor­ity rule cur­rently sits within Holy­rood. One might do a fur­ther anal­y­sis of the West­min­ster sys­tem, whereby even the hall in which par­lia­men­tary busi­ness takes place lends it­self to a con­flict style of joust­ing and red lines re­main on car­pets to keep swords from meet­ing.

The his­tory books might sug­gest that, out of that sys­tem, ‘strong and sta­ble’ came best when one party’s pe­riod of govern­ment was fol­lowed by another from the op­po­si­tion. How­ever, one might point out that, even dur­ing those pe­ri­ods, a right-lean­ing ratchet ef­fect has taken place, es­pe­cially in re­cent times, the ‘age of ex­tremes’ per­haps see­ing an over­all win­ner in the lon­gi­tu­di­nal tug of war.

Another as­pect is that of per­verse in­cen­tives. Some re­coiled in hor­ror as the po­ten­tial of a hung par­lia­ment be­come clearer. The po­ten­tial shift in power at the top and the thought of a hard Brex­i­teer re­plac­ing the in­cum­bent PM would be a fi­nal twist in the po­lit­i­cal pan­tomime.

How­ever, this opens one’s eyes to the need for care­ful strate­gis­ing, op­tions ap­praisals and risk man­age­ment, often dis­cussed but pos­si­bly less ro­bustly en­acted. Those ar­eas re­quire deep think­ing, time and con­sid­er­a­tion, also often miss­ing. Too often lead­er­ship ap­proaches are quick, think­ing on one’s feet with steely de­ter­mi­na­tion.this and per­se­ver­ance are ad­mirable lead­er­ship at­tributes. The ‘Cor­byn bounce’ is per­haps a re­cent ex­am­ple.

Fur­ther­more, whilst there has been wail­ing and gnash­ing of teeth about Pres­i­dent Trump, he has sur­vived the first 100 days and be­yond. Sur­vival and nav­i­gat­ing trou­bled wa­ters are key lead­er­ship traits.

Above all, cur­rent af­fairs ex­poses some shifts needed in lead­er­ship think­ing and re­flec­tion to sup­port im­prov­ing prac­tice. A volatile, un­cer­tain, com­plex and am­bigu­ous world re­quires adap­tive lead­er­ship. How lead­ers re­spond will be in­ter­est­ing. Eric Hof­fer sug­gests; “In times of change, learn­ers in­herit the earth, while the learned find them­selves beau­ti­fully equipped to deal with a world that no longer ex­ists.” ● Neil Mclen­nan is se­nior lec­turer and di­rec­tor of lead­er­ship pro­grammes, Uni­ver­sity of Aberdeen, School of Ed­u­ca­tion.

0 Theresa May made lead­er­ship cen­tral to her elec­tion cam­paign

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