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Inspirational, Polictics

Leadership


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My friend recently suggested that I should run for public office??? “That my speech and writings hint of a soul that had got the deeper gist of it”  Unless there was some kind of humour intended in the context of her statements, or unless it was mere flattery, I couldn’t disagree with her more.

Putting aside the issue of what a role will actually entail (e.g. needs of the people, firefighting, pushing agendas, etc)  in my view, Public office  requires someone who doesn’t always say exactly what they think. One who has a certain predisposition (tempted to call it a temperament, but not convinced it is) towards their job, life and other people. To lead and serve properly, one has to be diplomatic and learn to tread a thin line in which they attempt to fill bucketloads of grains of opposing and mutually exclusive requests into the same perforated basket, while fending off arrows from opponents. Quite the impossible task.

Secondly, I’m neither a bullshitter, nor an inherent liar (it seems lying comes naturally to some) and I find both types morally repressive, and somewhat cheap. But sometimes politicians have to be economical with the truth – for all sorts of reasons. At least that’s what comes across from disclosures such as Wikileaks. To me, lying means you are not sophisticated enough to communicate in a manner that convincingly shames your critics. Or that you are not person enough to come clean and acknowledge your mistakes.

In addition, one has to be cunningly discreet and balance the need for self-expression (which everyone is entitled to) and it’s not so obvious effects (i.e. gaffes, entrapment, parody, hostility, etc.) while under an umbrella of political correctness.

You then have to learn to say less stupid things [more dumb statements here] in public, and be reasonably knowledgeable, if you weren’t already. This also calls for a wisdom to realise you are not superman.

Then there is the issue of playing the media to one’s advantage, which essentially entails a good measure of schmooze and cajoling to achieve a certain end, all the while enduring encroachment on one’s private life (your children photoed when they shouldn’t, shamed + teased by their friends when you screw up in your job; none of them should ever get pregnant or divorce in undesirable or less than ideal circumstances – the moral threshold couldn’t be higher; your moral compass is under a massive microscope at all times – bunga bunga et al; your husband’s lechery is on public display; don’t ever have an affair and the whole world will know, dare divorce after the affair, the whole world will still know, and you will not be forgiven :-|; your adolescence misadventures will be dug and pasted all over the papers and so on). I’m sure most people would agree that these are all thoroughly violating potential traps whose vectors are seldom under one’s control.

Then there is the issue of the type of leadership you will step into, and whether it is effective in the present world. These come in all forms, but I’m not entirely sure that our current frameworks of public office in the western world have the inherent flexibility within them for a leader to be most effective. In my view, there are too many constraints, too many people pulling strings against you, too many cannots which may have been put there for a good purpose (i.e. sharing of power / prevention of abuse), but which in the long run couldn’t be good for the success of the office itself. Let me give you an example. If there is a property crisis in a country and property prices areever increasing, or too high for most folk to afford owning a house, leading to hundreds of thousands failing to afford a decent home, or buying only on money they do not own, yet the government is powerless from pushing through legislation or other measures that could rectify the anomaly in a short space of time, and year after year the problem gets worse, surely that couldn’t possibly be a good thing? But what if there’s very little in the established system or avenues of public office that could allow one to effect the necessary changes to rectify the problems? Is the framework still functional? Similar story with Energy prices. Or Insurance premiums. Most of the companies operating in those arenas are without a shadow of a doubt ripping-off consumers, but because of an obsession with redundant ideology, or systems of the past, nothing gets done about it, except consultations that result in nothing of real substance.

Why would anyone elect to enter into a sphere which by its very nature is a poisoned chalice? Where they will be effectively unable to cause any sort of meaningful change in the long term. Where the only winners are those that cut corners.  Where the leader is in ‘shackles’ over policy, finances, party ideology, ‘unknownism’ and has to compromise again and again, or endure deals with misogynistic hot-heads and other unearthly sorts.

In order to get a feel of the skills required for public office, an example that compares two spectrally opposed characters (one of whom is well-known for all the wrong reasons) may be worthwhile:

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Sarah Palin, everybody knows her, what else can one say.The second is not as well-known, at least not as well-known as Palin. And is not an elected official, but a monarch who is nevertheless a public officer: Carl XVI Gustaf.

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But before you accuse me of comparing oranges with tomatoes, let me explain something.

Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger,  just before he run for governor? It is said that there were teams of guru’s (from Economists and Political Scientists to Banking specialists and others) who had been hired to “educate” him to the tune of 16 hours a day. It wasn’t so much an education than an exercise in converting a successful Actor – who it is safe to assume knew nothing about running a US state – into a seasoned and better-informed Leader. The underlying truth being you may be good at certain things, may have been elected into public office, chosen as a running mate, campaigned for an election, studied at Harvard or Yale, but that doesn’t of itself help you to become a good and effective leader. You have to get a good quality training from a variety of sources. In the case of the King of Sweden, Wikipedia helpfully lists a number of appointments that illuminate his academic and professional instruction / experience:

After graduating from high school, the Crown Prince completed two and a half years of education in the Royal Swedish Army, the Royal Swedish Navy, and the Royal Swedish Air Force. He received his commission as an officer in all three services in 1968, and he eventually rose to the rank of captain (in the army and air force) and lieutenant (in the navy), before he ascended to the throne. He has also completed his academic studies in history, sociology, political science, tax law, and economics at Uppsala University and Stockholm University.

To prepare for his role as the Head of State, Crown Prince Carl Gustaf followed a broad program of studies on the court system, social organizations and institutions, trade unions, and employers’ associations. In addition, he closely studied the affairs of the Parliament of Sweden, Government, and Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Crown Prince also spent time at the Swedish Mission to the United Nations and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), worked at a bank in London, at the Swedish Embassy in London, at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in France, and at the Alfa Laval Company factory in France.

But of course as history perfectly demonstrates, formal instruction is not enough. Other factors such as your moral compass, your conviction over difficult and divisive issues, the presence of level-headed spin-doctors and advisors that have integrity, public zeitgeist, etc all have a role to play.

However, my point is if King Gustav had to go through such varied training when his role is purely ceremonial, how much more instruction then should individuals with non-ceremonial roles have before taking office? Public officers with power, whose decisions will affect thousands or even millions? Assuming you know her background, if you then read what she was quoted to have said, you’ll very quickly see why Palin’s leadership stunt with John McCain was worse than just merely questionable.

Surely good and effective leadership doesn’t happen accidentally? The Swedes know this, which is why they invest significantly in the leadership of even their monarchs, even when the monarch has no direct role in their country’s governance.

But if you study the biographies of many people in public office today, not only in Britain, but all over the world, what you will find is that not many have invested enough in themselves for a responsibility that could help them undertake their jobs much more effectively.

That is precisely why I think my friend has got it wrong.

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