We need new leaders, charismatic ones preferably. We need leaders “like the ones in the good days” who had stamina and ideas, who had the vision and the spine to lead societies. These are some of the common reproaches one hears as regards today’s political class, across the globe, of course primarily in democratic societies, where you can actually express dissent and be aspirational about societal leadership.
The truth about leadership is a bit more relative: former leaders did not face a 24/7 media and social media frenzy, and often proved themselves by virtue of decisions taken in context of major events at the scale of a particular decade. Current leaders are nowadays contested when running on a platform dealing with an unsatisfying present, both from populists who are targeting the past (invoking nostalgia and the return to an alleged golden age) and the ones making unsustainable and illusory promises on how a golden future may look. In short, it’s not easy to be a leader in times of America First, euro-scepticism, propaganda and populism all over the place. Nonetheless, the key is closer than people may think and it has to do with returning to some good old fashioned traits that shaped leaders in past decades and centuries: will power, values and vision.
Will power – indeed, one can hardly be a woman or a man leader in present times without the perception of a strong will. Determination is key to acquiring power not only in terms of personal resilience but also popular perception: in times of a multitude of perceived crisis, one will naturally make appeal to strong, determined leaders. Mainstream politics deserves such political leaders, and should not allow for this trait to become the niche of populist and extremist parties: one can be both strong and democratic, there is no natural antagonism between strong leadership and playing by democratic rules.
Values – it’s key to remind people periodically, in clear and effective soundbites, that politics is not just about cynicism or dishonesty. You may say that I am a dreamer, but, then again I am not: realism needs hope as well. Again, inspiring hope should be the strongest weapon of mainstream left wing and right wing politicians. If hope becomes the arm of the antiestablishment, it’s hard to resist populism, so talking about values often is in the interest of current and potential moderate leaders. Vision – country plan, grand strategy, societal view, all these are expressions which seem not to fit anymore political speech and this trend should change. At the same time, words should be aligned with deeds: in doing a decent expectations management leading to recreating credibility, mainstream leaders should start talking about a plan for the future. It’s the only wait to recreate trust sustainably and aim at winning hearts and minds again in the 21st century.
With the return of will power, values and vision the fight for global leadership has only just began. Deeds should match words, and communications and strategy should be matched by public policies delivery. So, let us return to good old fashioned rules of leadership in order to restore trust in the present and the future. The Good Governance Summit, 4-5 May 2017, in Bucharest, will address good governance and leadership and should be on your radar in terms of policy debate.