The fantasy of strong leadership

The cry goes up, "what we need is strong leadership" but what does strong leadership look like? 
We have had charismatic leaders in the past and they certainly inspire people but they also view dissent as personal disloyalty, have a tendency to close down debate rather than open it up and impose rather than negotiate change. Yes they get things done but it's very much the end justifies the means. No one gets it right all the time and these over confident leaders find it very hard to admit they got it wrong or to change a strategy that isn't working, their instinct is simply to press on even more determined. Such people are often described as strong leaders because they make things happen by sheer force of personality and if that doesn't work by sheer force.

There are those driven by a vision and a clear set of values. They seek to inspire not by force of personality but by their picture of the future, they wish to persuade or convert but they can be so convinced that there beliefs are right that they can not accept or tolerate alternative views. In uncertain times their clarity and strength of conviction can appear as attractive as the future they describe. 

It is not difficult to see how charismatic or evangelical leadership might be described as strong leadership nor is it difficult to see this drifting into ignoring advice, imposing decisions no mater how unpopular and how the absolute certainty of being right would lead to the abuse of power, cover ups and persecution of whistleblowers. 

Leadership certainly involves the ability to inspire people, a clarity of purpose and a determination but it also involves knowing when to listen, when to change a plan and when to compromise. Imposing change is effective in the short term but lasting change involves wining hearts and minds. It's just a fantasy that strong leadership will solve all the problems. 

Blair McPherson former director, author and blogger

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