Leadership is often about managing tensions. Making value judgements where there is no “right” answer or when there a number of “right” answers. How do we make decisions in these cases and where do we get our decision from? From our own value system or from what we believe others want? This is a natural conflict but good leaders transcend this by being authentic to their values.
Spare a thought for some politicians who feel they would never get away with doing the right thing – due to electoral perception – although its what they would wish. Compare these to those politicians who have no value system at all and blow with the prevailing wind – like Groucho Marx’s character:
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others”
How difficult is it to demonstrate true values based leadership in a world where the media, spin and an aggressive opposition can characterize a good idea as “a travesty of justice” for group x or y – just so they can procure a few more angry votes for their side.
Look at the rise of Trump in the US. Popularity generated from populist sound bites. There is not a shred of authenticity in his campaign or his leadership. A misogynist, a racist and bigot, he is not a reflection of the views of the US population as a rule but of one section of it. While in reality this is a lot smaller section of the overall population than most reports would have you believe – he is (or was) getting up to 60% of the vote from something like 28% of the population (registered republicans) which is actually less than 17% overall. But he has used cynicism and media spin to rise to the top of the nomination pile for the republican candidacy. However this is demagoguery not leadership. Demagoguery is an appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. It is about manipulation that appeals to the worst nature of people. Demagoguery isn’t based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it’s based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people. Demagoguery is one of the most negative aspects of politics, but it’s also one that’s all too common. History shows however that Demagogues often come to a bad end.
In Ireland there are a number of parties and politicians that use populism mostly or even exclusively and dare I say it, demagoguery, to reach their goals. We as a country are trying to climb out of a vicious recession – and we have a fair bit to go yet. People are hurting everywhere. We have some politicians trying to show leadership, in the interests of the country, and some, who no matter how good an idea might be, point fingers, disagree, lie, spin and stir up hatred and anger. And for the most part they are not called on this by our media, but rather given a soap box from which to express their “opinions”.
Bernie Sanders hope and vision based campaign appeals to many in the US. His rhetoric is anti-establishment, but is raising a few home truths about the behaviour of those who benefit from aggressive capitalism (and those who do what they can get away with rather than what is right) at home and abroad. In a country where there is no real cap on political contributions from vested interests and where these contributions and that support is key to getting elected – power is controlled by few. Ironic in a country that is the global standard bearer for democracy and where the majority in the “parliament” of the country (that produces 16% of global carbon emissions – by far the highest per capita) do not “believe in” climate change – it is not a bad thing that he is pointing this out. This is a guy blanked by the media to an extent that his first six months coverage was mostly internet based. One major newscaster preferred to show an empty podium at a Trump event rather than a victory speech from Sanders. But you can’t keep a good thing down.
What Sanders exudes is Authenticity. His leadership is in setting a vision. His cause is front and centre. His WHY is written on him and all over his campaign. I am struck by other candidates talking about the rights of minorities, and one compares that to the authenticity shown by the photos and records of his role in the civil rights movement in the sixties and of Sanders relationship with and support of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson.
Authentic Leadership in Irish Politics
We could do with some more authenticity in politics in Ireland. Political leadership that has a vision, a why and is about demonstrable values and service to the nation that is sometimes contrary to the interests of the politician himself or herself. It needs a vision that can generate trust, passion and courage. We could be talking up the next stage of renewal and recovery and about how we need to continue to pull together – setting out a view on how and who we want to be and what we stand for. We are a super little country with some of the nicest and kindest people you can find anywhere (ask any travel guide). We also have some of the hardest working people in Europe.
In a recent substantial international poll we do the most good in the world (of any country on the globe). We should be talking about and then putting our nation’s interests first. We should be addressing the needs of the most needy, putting them first on the list to give our rising tax take to – the homeless, the home helpers and the long-term disabled for example. That’s what our leaders should be talking about. This helps those who have had hard times for the last ten years – yes its ten years since 2006 – because they can see we are going somewhere, getting there, doing good and why. Some politicians are trying to lead but most are dumbstruck and many of them have gone the opposite way – they’re taking cheap shots, or moving in their own interests or continuing to make their own base angry while keeping them feeling disenfranchised – making people victims rather than empowering them. That’s not moral leadership.
We have in the recent 1916 commemorations been reminded of Irish leaders and their followers who sacrificed everything for a national cause and a WHY that resonated with so many and was supported by values and beliefs and a moral center – against a far greater challenge – which drove that and later passionate action – eventually creating the country we live in today. We could be doing better in 2016.
Aidan Higgins BE MBA of ADEO Consulting is a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist working with Leaders and Teams in Ireland and the UK. He has over 25 years experience working in various capacities with individuals, teams and organisations of all sizes.