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General, Polictics

7 Critical Qualities of Effective Political Leadership: Thrifty ducks and social workers

Most people don’t know that Scrooge McDuck is Disney‘s highest grossing fictional character. The Scottish anthropomorphic duck created in 1947 by Carl Barks and whose IP is licensed to Disney has been such a hit for Disney it has outgrossed  the next competitor (in the form of Carlisle Cullen) by a massive US$7.9 billion margin. But what has rich fictional ducks have to do with leadership?

Well, like I noted earlier here, the US presidential election is a spectacle. One where millions (most recently billions) of dollars are spent. And if one has the time to closely follow the events leading to, and including the elections, one notices an incredible lot. Things which should have been done but for some absurd reason weren’t done, things which were said, revealing poor judgement and shouldn’t (under any circumstances) have been said;  Dog eat Dog, Dog eat Cat, Dog self-distructs, Dog endorses cat, Dog attempts to eat itself, the whole shebang!

What strikes me though is why some of the contenders didn’t resort to good age-old wisdom, meaning all the theoretical and practical ingredients history has shown are essential for good leadership?

So what makes a good leader great? Well, there’s no manual to it, but by studying the lives of those who have come to be universally accepted as some of the most effective leaders, or those of the not-so-good, one can find pretty good clues:-

1. Honesty: If you are a dishonest person, don’t think you can ever make a great leader. Ask Nixon.

2. Conviction: Conviction is not the same as any other principle because conviction can smash through accepted principles and prejudices. Against the establishment, against the status quo. It can go against the will of the party, the power blocs(those who fund and influence leaders), the wealthy and powerful minority, friends, family, etc…convinction respects no man, conviction says we must do this not because its comfortable or will make our friends happy, but because it is the right and ethical thing to do in the circumstances we face. Conviction doesn’t always align itself with the party’s ideology, nor will the conservative blocs, past and present necessarily agree with it. Think Mandela, think Ariel Sharon or Ronald Reagan. I’ll give you an example. If I earn £250,000 after tax and have 3 children, then if the tax man takes away an additional £2000 in a tax increase; unless my outgoings are such that I spend the whole £250,000 each year, and do not save anything, I couldn’t possibly be affected to the same extent as say a single mother of 3 children who earns £28,000 a year, and has to sacrifice £1000 or even £500 extra each year in a tax increase, could I? I’m inclined to think not. A great leader can see such minefields and has the tenacity and mental strength to deal with opposition to the products of conviction.

3. Genuine Representation: How many times have you heard that Washington cannot be changed from the inside? That sometimes it looks like a club of power hungry rich people bent on doing what they wanted most of the times, and promising what their electors need only some of the time? This mentality is not exclusive to Washington. Its visible in the ruling elite in Kenya, in Mugabe‘s Zimbabwe, among the rulers of Malaysia, India, China, Nigeria, its almost everywhere. You can’t be a great leader if the critical issues that move you, are not the critical issues affecting the masses.

4. Personality:  Believe me you,  whatever you have done in the past that could be used against you in a negative light will catch up with you some day. Either come clean and justify yourself with a reasonable explanation before the media machine uncovers the dirt, if any such explanation even exists, or don’t run for public office at all.

5. Sympathy for the others: A good leader has the eyes to see beyond the here and now, into the lives of families who are struggling with poverty, sickness, debt and unemployment, even though he himself may never have encountered such challenges in his own life. This is easier said than done, and requires a depth of wisdom that says we can’t all be high achievers. The state must do something to help those who for one reason or another, are not soaring on wings like eagles. Ofcourse this also means recognising that checks will have to be in place to recognise and address any abuse to the system.

6 Confidence and Charisma: “Yes we can”. Need I say more.

7. The Grand Cause: In almost all revolutions, theres a central theme. Freedom from Persecution, Freedom from colonisation; Ending the rule of  infidels; Better standards for Women, Lower taxes for the masses; Better healthcare and Education; Jobs, a free Press, etc. Without absolute belief and passion (which cannot be faked) for the grand cause, the leader’s vision becomes no more than theoretical mumbo jumbo and falls on bewildered ears.

This Brotherhood (We’re in this together) can be clearly seen in the life of Ghandi, how he had few possessions and believed in the notion that what you did for others was more honourable and worthy than what you did for yourself. Or Thomas Sankara, the military leader of Burkina Faso, who being selfless and incorruptible, triumphed womens cause. A good leader thinks thus: We’ve created more jobs, even though we are in a recesion and have implemented cuts that will affect the poorest most, I’ll take a holiday or two abroad this year because my family and I need it, we need a break. A great leader refuses to take a holiday abroad because there are many hardworking citizens who are failing to get a job and certainly can’t afford a holiday. The difference couldn’t be spelled clearer.

In the case of the most recent US election, I don’t believe Romney is a bad fellow. No, not in a Newt-Gingrich(or in Britain, Michael Howard )-creepy kind of way. To the contrary, I think he’s quite a likeable guy whom you’d probably have a fun night out with. But I’m convinced he needs a lot of refining. Picture this, say post Bain Capital , family man Mitt left his family, took time out to hit the road. Spent at least 2 years without the safety net of his $250 million bank account, nor access to the political or business connections. If Mitt effectively took a sabbatical from it all; living rough, or on say in $50 a night motels (with a daily budget not exceeding  $75 a day) studying the political landscape, working with people on the ground, in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, with people who have faced foreclosures, hearing their side of the story, amongst black and latino voters, job seekers, support groups of alcohol and drugs abuse, among illegal immigrants and those without healthcare, keeping a journal, taking photos…across both Democratic and Republican strongholds, through the Swing States, with a backpack… don’t tell me that after such a 2 year long odyssey, Mitt would be the same person he now is? Yes, he’d most likely meet with frowns, and possibly lose friends, colleagues, partners, donors, etc. In the absence of proper communication (and feasible marriage arrangements) his family could be hostile towards him, or even abandon him,  but conviction would prompt him to press on.

It is more likely than not that after having seen how a sizeable chunk of  Americans in a different ‘world’ than that in which he’s accustomed to, lives,  that he would emerge a changed man,  full of first hand insights and clear understanding of life in the slow lane, and without the superficial and aloof manner that probably alienated some of the potential voters away from him. Minimally, it would win him deserved sympathy, that at least he’s experienced a little of what the local man goes through, even if its only for two years, and would immediately dispel any elitist labels. If I were an American, I would seriously consider voting for such a Mitt Romney.

But again, maybe its because because I watch tv series such as Secret Millionaire and Undercover Boss that I think in this way. But even if I didn’t, my observation all along has been that whenever potential leaders have taken time out to carefully study the arena, few emerge uninspired, and success soon follows.

“Leadership is accomplishing things that reach beyond solitary abilities by acting — and getting others to act — with a maturity that surpasses limited self-interest.” — John Baker.

“A leader is someone who actually listens. Someone who takes advice and implements it. Most leaders need to listen more and talk less.” Jeffery Hayzlett,



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