The Art of Leadership

Just thought this was good.

Robin Lustig: The art of leadership;

Let’s take three examples: leadership by bullying; leadership by persuasion; and leadership by populism.

The bully believes that pushing people hard, shouting at them from time to time, making them fear his anger, is the only way to get things done. If challenged, he’ll tell you that he’s not pushing his colleagues or his staff any harder than he pushes himself. Inertia is the enemy of progress, he’ll tell you. And as any political leader knows, bureaucracies do inertia better than they do anything else.

If his most senior civil servant feels obliged to discuss his behaviour with him, he’ll deliver his warning in the form of a gentle lesson in the art of "how to get the best out of your staff". And if, for example, his name is Gordon Brown, he’ll insist that he and his colleagues and staff always get along just fine, with barely an angry word ever crossing their lips.

The persuader will say that he’s a firm believer in the need to listen and to find common areas of agreement. He’ll tell you there’s always a way to bridge differences, and that a nation will always be better off when its political leaders look for consensus whenever possible.

If there’s a policy he’s committed to, he’ll perhaps summon his political opponents to an all-day televised debate, during which he will be seen listening politely, disagreeing gently, and cajoling whenever he can. But when his opponents refuse to budge, the persuader will find that he has no alternative but to face them down.

Maybe, as he lies in bed at night, he’ll wonder how you reach a consensus with people who don’t want to reach a consensus. And he may reflect on the uncomfortable political reality that most politicians tend to look for political advantage at every opportunity, especially in an election year.

If, for example, his name is Barack Obama, he may ask himself how he can persuade his Republican opponents that it’s in their interests to make him look good. And maybe he’ll conclude that it’s too big a challenge, even for him.

So what about the populist? He pleases the crowds by showing them that he’s one of them. He makes crude jokes, just like they do. He ogles pretty young women, even at the cost of his marriage. He knows that his supporters think there are too many immigrants, so he tells his much poorer neighbours that they’re not welcome (except for pretty young women, of course, because – remember? – his wife has walked out on him, and he may be 73 years old, but he’s single, and available).

He’s very rich, and very tanned, and is alleged by his opponents to keep dubious company and not always stay on the right side of the law. He attacks the judges as politically motivated, and openly uses his allies in parliament to try to ensure that he’s not charged with any criminal offence while he’s busy running the country.

If his name is Silvio Berlusconi (you’d guessed, hadn’t you?), his opinion poll ratings will remain pretty high (in fact, they are down a bit, but a 48 per cent approval rating is not exactly crashing through the floor), and he’ll give the impression that he has an unbreakable compact with his country’s voters.

So, there we are: three men, three very different styles of leadership. Each has been elected in a stable, developed democracy, yet the political cultures in which they operate are vastly different. (Yes, I know Gordon Brown wasn’t elected as Prime Minister, but nor were any of his predecessors. He, like they, was elected as an MP, and is Prime Minister only by virtue of being leader of the largest party in the House of Commons.)

My question for you is this: which leadership style do you prefer, and which do you think works best?


Arguably, the populist isn’t really leading. He is following. With the first two [bullying and persuasion] the leader is trying to bring people to his side of the debate. It’s not that difficult to “lead” people in the direction they were already going. It’s a bit like saying your dog is leading when you take it for a walk. On the other hand, you could argue that the populist will find it easier to bring his “followers” to his side when (if?) they disagree. This is because the person could argue that based on his track record of doing whatever they’ve wanted, they can trust him to do what’s in their interests. [Although you have to doubt whether a populist will ever grow a backbone and choose an option that the people don’t already want].


The bully could get things done in a small group [cabinet, meeting, workplace] but almost certainly not in a large group; you can’t really bully the whole country or everyone in a multinational corporation (except if you are able to bully the most powerful decision makers).

The effectiveness of bullying also wanes, the longer it goes on. In politics, continuous bullying coalesces enemies and increases the probability that the bully will be “overthrown”. This is true except in cases where the bully has the attractive force of personality that can only reside in God- although in that case he wouldn’t need to bully, he could just use his personality.

In employment relations, firstly, morale among the followers falls leading to increased labour turnover which means that the organisation will find it difficult to increase productivity as new workers get trained and then leave due to the bullying. Secondly, reduced morale reduces productivity directly, workers lose any desire to use their own initiative or innovate because they fear being admonished if they get it wrong. Third, bullying can just make workers obstinate or they become resistant to bullying meaning that bullying becomes ineffective at increasing productivity.


I think in a democracy, business or group with perfectly rational people, you would expect the persuader to do best. This is because, as long as the persuader has the best arguments people will follow because they are rational. However, people are not perfectly rational. Example; Paul Krugman writes about the situation in the US:

You’re So Vain, by Paul Krugman: Jonathan Chait and Robert Waldmann, in slightly different ways, highlight a crucial dynamic in American political debate: the extent to which public figures are punished for actually knowing what they’re talking about.

It goes like this: Person A says “Black is white” — perhaps out of ignorance, although more often out of a deliberate effort to obfuscate. Person B says, “No, black isn’t white — here are the facts.”

And Person B is considered to have lost the exchange — you see, he came across as arrogant and condescending.

Chait professes himself puzzled by the right’s intellectual insecurity. Me, not so much. Here’s how I see it: in our current political culture, the background noise is overwhelmingly one of conservative platitudes [Government BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD,…, BAD]. People who have strong feelings about politics but are intellectually incurious tend to pick up those platitudes, and repeat them in the belief that this makes them sound smart. (Ezra Klein once described Dick Armey thus: “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”)

Inevitably, then, such people react with rage when they’re shown up on their facts or basic logic — it’s an attack on their sense of self-worth.


In all, I think my preference of leadership styles is

Populist < Bully < Persuader

In situations where the persuader is up against non-consensual “adversaries” or where being right doesn’t help, he could utilise the other styles or get someone to do it for him. That’s my reason for Obama getting Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff; he’s sent someone a dead fish, told PM Tony Blair “This is important. Don’t **** it up” and at a dinner knifed the table repeatedly while proclaiming death on Clinton’s enemies. Nice guy really.

In terms of effectiveness, in a perfectly rational world the persuader would be most effective. However, in the world we live in, the populist would be the most effective in getting victories (although as I said he isn’t leading). The bully would succeed for a while and then would probably be destroyed.

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