What Good Political Leaders Need
Most people have a poor view of “politicians”. Many think that business people would do a better job. I recently said to someone, that it is important to have political leaders who understand the realities of politics. Very few business people do and would need to learn on the job. Do we want to pay these learners big bucks while they learn? And few will succeed.
Of course what we need are “good” politicians, but how do we determine the right qualities?
There are three qualities that Weber (1919) said that all politicians should have.
Politicians should have a clear commitment to a cause, for which they can sustain necessary passion. It is often based on faith, where the politician has a vision for the future and seeks to make it come true.
Politics is not straightforward and the road to change may be a very crooked path. Passion provides the energy to keep the politician moving and overcoming obstacles.
Passion is also a great persuader. If you are passionate about a cause then others may be infected with your enthusiasm. Impassion and lack of care seldom sells.
Being able to feel passion is not enough. Passion without responsibility can lead to revolutionary fervor and crime. Passion without judgment can lead to ineffective or dangerous decisions.
Politicians make decisions that affect many lives, including their own. A poor political decision can be professional suicide.
Political judgment includes when to keep things secret and when to go public. It is also important to be able to judge the hidden self of other people.
Judgment alone is not enough. Judgment without passion gets nothing done. Judgment without responsibility does not serve the politician’s constituency.
Politicians serve a wider community and so should always consider others and have their best interests at heart. It thus needs an understanding and adoption of of social values.
Without responsibility, the politician becomes selfish and interested first in their own careers and goals. Vanity and narcissism tends to reduce responsibility, although it can also lead to the politician needing to appear responsible.
‘Power politics’, in which the acquisition and use of power is a distracting end in itself, is typical of a lack of responsibility. Beyond this, the ‘politics of violence’ justifies war and other acts against the body to achieve desired ends. Politics encompasses many paradoxes and dilemmas, making it easy to justify acts of power and aggression. This makes a strong sense of responsibility even more important.
Responsibility without passion does not lead the change. Responsibility without judgment leads to ineffective or dangerous decisions.
I would add:
Political knowledge and ability
Politics is about the art of the possible. None of the above will work unless the incumbent knows how to be an effective politician and get things done
It is not enough for a leader to know the right thing. They need to know how to make that thing work.
Weber, M. (1919). Political Writings, ed. P. Lassman and R. Speirs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press