Leadership Performance

The performance requirements for a political leader are more demanding than those described previously (6.3.3) for other politicians:

●  Responsiveness in a leader means listening to the members of their team as well as to popular demands and to expert advice.  Good management is not about knowing better than team members – it is about delegating and getting the best performance from them.

●  Competence in a national leader also has an international dimension, whereas most other members of the government team have a purely domestic focus.

●  Integrity is even more important for a leader than for other politicians because the team takes its moral tone from its leader.  It would be impossible to root out corruption in a society whose leader was corrupt, for example.

●  They must be self-confident, to inspire others to follow them. 

●  Charismatic leaders can inspire the population and strengthen its morale. 

Some leaders dominate the government team as visionaries, directing the way ahead, whereas others act more as team managers.  Clement Attlee, for example, was famously modest but his government was very effective in introducing Britain’s Welfare State; a Daily Mail profile, Clem Attlee stood for decency and duty – a stark contrast to today’s MPs, noted that he ran a talented team:

“In a Cabinet of uproarious, confident, highly talented personalities  –  the bullish Ernest Bevin, the bumptious Hugh Dalton the ascetic Sir Stafford Cripps, the firebrand Aneurin Bevan  –  Attlee, even as their boss, was often overlooked.”

Circumstances affect the degree of responsiveness which is appropriate in a leader; it can be characterised on a scale, as illustrated below.  At one extreme is the administrative style, which is reactive and consensual – listening to members of the team and to the public; at the other end of the scale is the dictatorial style, which tells the team and the people what is going to happen and then enforces compliance:

Although a dictatorial style allows for rapid decision-making and coherence of policy direction, it can have the disadvantage of being insufficiently challenged.  A leader who appoints people based on their loyalty, and who cannot be argued with, may make mistakes which could have been avoided if advisers were listened to.  For example, “Vladimir Putin is trapped in a closed world of his own making”, according to western intelligence (as reported by the BBC), and “many analysts believe he has actually become isolated and closed off to any alternative views”.  His invasion of Ukraine did not go as well as he expected, and the BBC reported that “Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misled by advisers who are too scared to tell him how badly the war in Ukraine is going, the White House says” – vividly illustrating a disadvantage of his dictatorial leadership style.

The test of good leaders is how well they serve the public interest.  Charismatic leadership is necessary in wartime, or to persuade doubters to accept policies, but normally responsiveness is also important.  And inclusivity (2.5) and prudence (2.6) are always required: leaders have a responsibility for all who come within their sphere of influence and they should consider the foreseeable future impact of their decisions.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6341.htm