A touchy feely leader for the Tories?

Yvonne Roberts asks whether the Conservative party has truly
absorbed the new culture of leadership.

They don’t make leaders like they used too any more – or so
we’re frequently told. Charisma is in short supply; courage has
been replaced by a facility for passing the buck. The sterling
stuff which fashioned John Wayne in the Wild West; Winston
Churchill and Monty of Alamein during the war years and John F
Kennedy in the mythologised version of the 1960s is in dangerously
short supply.

It’s a view which implies that a consensus exists on what we seek
from our man or woman of the moment; the individual who can
inspire, motivate and develop a vision which is compelling and
magnetic. Hague lacked it; Margaret Thatcher had bucket loads of
the stuff, or so the legend has it.

In truth, Thatcher epitomises the style of leadership of a bygone
age; one which management gurus tell us any modern boss of state
would do well to avoid – Blair take note. In the past decade or so,
a quiet revolution has taken place. One which has gone unnoticed by
at least some of those who appear likely to run as candidates for
the forthcoming Conservative leadership poll.

Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe is professor of leadership studies at Leeds
University and one of a group of academics who recently conducted a
study of leadership in the public sector. What emerged is that
there was very little grasp of the notion at all. And frightening
amounts of disaffection among the troups.The antique but still
popular model of the the chief, that of a man (and traditionally it
was almost always a man until Maggie of the Metal Hairdo arrived)
who is “heroic”; bombastic; who solves problems often in isolation
treating “consultation” as an obligation rather than a tool. He
fails to delegate sufficiently; issues orders and resents
challenge. Status matters as does control. He is more likely to
shout than shower praise. He or she is deemed brilliant when
winning – but watch the blue blood on the floor when the personal
“magic” runs out.

What progressive organisations now seek instead is the
transformational leader. He or she is more collaborative; avoids
cliques and toadies and establishes credibility by example not by
pulling rank.The 21st century leader seeks advice; delegates;
refuses to rule by fear; recognises contributions and encourages
honesty about mistakes made and family networks outside work that
require support.In short, he or she is big on being human – while
also having that indefinable quality that makes others want to
follow wherever he or she leads.

Once upon a time, Michael Portillo, a likely Tory leadership
contender, used to be an arrogant, right wing, clever dick. Now, he
tells us, he has learned humility; he radiates compassion. He
listens; he smiles; he consults; he praises; he is a born again
transformational boss.

He has clearly read all the correct management manuals Ð but
two doubts remain. First, as Victoria Woodhull said when she
campaigned for the presidency of the US in 1872: “To preach the
doctrine you must live the life”. And second, while Portillo may
now profess to belong to a broad church, the pews around him are
likely to remain empty until the Tory overhaul releases others from
the corset of 19th century conservativism.

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