Leadership Qualities – What do we want from our politicians

Politicians are a funny breed (I should know as I was one and know lots).  You have to be a certain kind of person to put yourself willingly through selection and an election campaign.  Having your face on tens of thousands of leaflets, walk miles and miles delivering them, put yourself through local husting meetings, put yourself out there on social media, make speeches to rooms of people who disagree with you, only to lose very publicly, humiliatingly, and with crowds of people cheering your defeat – I’m not selling this am I…?

And yet I absolutely love it.  So as I say we are a funny breed.  It is by far the longest and hardest job interview that you will ever take part in, only positive is that you get very fit walking an average of 20,000 steps a day for weeks on end.

Then there are those who take it to the next level standing for leadership of a party which is all of the above times a million.  I have some good friends who have been party leaders in Scotland from all the parties and I have such respect for them and the impact that it has had on their personal lives.  So what are the qualities of leadership that we should be looking for in our political leaders.

Googling “qualities of a good leader” leads us to this comprehensive list:

  • Effective communication
  • Responsibility and accountability
  • Long-term thinking
  • Self-motivation
  • Confidence
  • People skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Open-mindedness
  • Ethics
  • Optimism
  • Humility
  • Character
  • Passion

Given that the current candidates have risen to the positions that they have we can probably score off a couple of these as a given, although I realise some may argue.  We can pretty much accept that all the current group are effective communicators, are self motivated, have confidence, optimism and passion.  That leaves us with some of the softer and more important traits that are probably more in question at the moment.

Humility is not a characteristic that most of our politicians possess.  When you go back to my first paragraph about what it takes to stand for election humbleness is hard to square with what candidates have to go through in order to be elected.  But I always think that humbleness is more about the ability to listen and really listen to others, to have empathy with those you meet and understand where they are coming from.  Politicians have a duty to do this and I hope that party leaders also make time to do this important part of their work. Jesus called all of us to be humble:  When His disciples asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to come to Him and chided them, saying: “Whosoever … shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1, 4).

The character of our political leaders has also come into focus in recent months and years.  Pointing to the character of Boris Johnson Rishi Sunak commented that “we are all flawed”, while true is it right of us to expect more from our political leaders or should we be more forgiving of character flaws in our leaders.  I guess it depends on what the flaw is, are some flaws in our leaders more acceptable than others?  Many have described Keir Starmer as boring, is that a flaw we are willing to accept in this political climate?  But flaws of character are harder to discount, but are we asking our leaders for too much, to be flawless, or worse, to hide their flaws and keep them secret.  As an electorate do we need to have a greater acceptance of the weakness of our leaders but still expect them to conduct themselves in proper way.  No doubt the actions of Boris Johnson pointed to some major issues with his character, his inability to tell the truth, his failure to stop breaking of lockdown restrictions in his office and home, but he was driven and single minded in his focus on issues such as Brexit and tackling the pandemic.

So are we willing to accept a flawed person as Prime Minister so long as those flaws are not associated with a failure in moral judgement?

The Bible talks about character as actions, how we deal with things.   Colossians 3:12-15 – “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.”

The last leadership quality that I want to think about here is “responsibility and accountability”.  As a political leader your fate is ultimately decided by your own group and the electorate – you are accountable to their judgement which is harsh and swift at times.  But as Christians we know that ultimately we are accountable to God.  This tension is one that many of our politicians of faith struggle with when they have to decide on “issues of conscience” as they are called.  Do they vote according to what their constituency believes (since it was they that elected them) or to what they believe.  We see faithful politicians struggle with this every day and are often torn down in the press as a result of their beliefs and views.  We saw this with Tim Farron, Lib Dem leader who ultimately had to stand down because of his faith and his views on issues of conscience we saw a recent social media attack on John Mason MSP in Scotland because of his views on abortion.  It is hard for our politicians to take a stand and we should be there to support them and stand with them when they do.

Collective responsibility within our Government means that cabinet members have to stand by a position even when they don’t agree with it.  There is nothing harder than doing a media interview arguing for something that you fundamentally disagree with but having to do it because it is your job.  I have had to do that and it is tough, you can argue whether as a politician you should but it is part of the role, when you are in leadership sometimes you have to do things and say things that you don’t necessarily agree with but it is the view of the group of people who you work with.  There are some things that you should absolutely never compromise on but that is something you have to work out for yourself. You have to decide where your line in the sand are, and be prepared to fight for them, and stand down if you don’t win the argument.  So responsibility and accountability sounds like quite a clear cut thing but in politics it is often not that simple.

Leadership in any field is tough, it is lonely, heavy and impacts every aspect of your life – time off is rare and in our new connectedness holidays are interrupted with work calls daily.  In my previous leadership role, during the Covid pandemic, I worked all hours, weekends, two Christmas and New Year days, responding to crisis and being on call 24/7.  Political leadership is challenging as you do all of this in the public eye with criticism a constant, it is impossibly difficult and challenging and yet we have individuals who are willing to step up and take the hard decisions.

Whatever your political views, and whatever your thoughts on our current crop of politicians they need our prayer and support. So here is quick bit of homework – today why don’t you write to you local MP, MSP, councillor and say thanks, thank them for putting themselves forward, for working for their community and tell them that you will pray for them in their work.

You can find all of your MP and MSP contact details here: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/

And your councillor contact details from your local council website.