Strong and Stable Leadership

by George Hatjoullis

Identity is about how we see ourselves and present ourselves. Character is about how others see us based on their experience of us. Psychometrics attempts to place individuals in terms of a set of character or personality dimensions and is now widely used in recruitment to assess suitability. It is an understandable exercise but quite dangerous and essentially flawed. Character cannot be judged out of context and context can change in radical ways.

There are no character strengths or weaknesses. There are just character traits. These may or may not be stable over a lifetime. They are made strengths or weakness by context. Winston Churchill often comes to mind when I think about this issue. Before becoming Britain’s pre-war leader he was not highly regarded. The same character ‘flaws’ that elicited mocking before he assumed the role of pre-war leader became strengths once he took over. Britain needed this package of traits at this point in time. There are no great men or women just important moments in human experience. Greatness rather depends upon the outcome.

Seeking leadership characteristics is now a booming industry. During one employment I was tasked to form a group session with my team to establish what they thought constituted great leadership (presumably as a clue for me). Part of the exercise involved each team member stating who they regarded as a great leader. I, and some of the team members, were astonished to see Stalin written on the flip chart. Two of the team were Russian nationals. An interesting and very illuminating discussion followed. It transpired that Russians admire ‘strong and stable’ leadership. This was in 2006. I was never in doubt about Putin’s future success after this session. I also recognised the potential of Erdogan. The appeal of strong and stable leadership should never be underestimated whatever price it charges.

The issue now swings back to identity. The appeal of Strong and Stable leadership is only with those that identify as part of the group being led. It signifies a Strong and Stable group and by association a Strong and Stable us, as members of the group. Any prior ethics that we have are subsumed under the need for a Strong and Stable leader. The Leader does what is necessary. You can see where this might lead (and if you cannot you should stop reading my blogs).

Ironically when I look around at leaders of today only one emerges as strong and stable, objectively; Angela Merkel. I have never heard her use the term but she has provided strength and stability for Germany and the EU for some time. I have never agreed with the response to the eurozone crisis but it may be that it was the best available response at the time. The fact is,the EU is stable despite enormous economic and social pressures. It is united. It is strong, and this strength is about to be tested by Putin, Erdogan, and Trump. Members of the respective groups will have their own view on who constituted the strong and stable leader but I suspect only one will emerge as ‘Great’. My money is on Angela Merkel. People that repeat strong and stable as a mantra are perhaps whistling in the dark.