Political leaders need selfless qualities

Debate continues despite referendum result being 'done and dusted'. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Debate continues despite referendum result being 'done and dusted'. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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TRUE powerful leadership serves others before self, says Ian Marchant.

Over the last few months there has been a great deal of debate about what kind of future we want for Scotland. Indeed this debate is continuing despite the fact that the referendum is done and dusted. That debate is now focused on constitutional issues but has ranged over economic questions, social justice, public services and many other areas. However, one thing that has been notably absent is any thought about leadership.

In most walks of life we know that leadership matters, be it the latest football sacking or the new chief executive at a large company. This is also true for Scotland as a whole. All too often our politics is trivialised and personalised when we need to be focused on the characteristics we need in our leaders.

In all walks of life our leaders need to be visionary, excellent communicators and master tacticians but I believe there are two attributes that we should expect from our political leaders but which are rare commodities.

Firstly, in our modern, complex world no one person can be expected to be omnipotent. Leaders have to be team players who can both put the right leadership team together and then get the best out of them. That requires a rare attribute, humility. It was the US president, Harry S Truman who said “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”.

The second characteristic we should expect of our political leaders is what the noted management guru, Jim Collins, calls Level 5 leadership – although others have called it servant leadership.

Collins says of these leaders that “their ambition has to be for the greatness of the work and the company rather than for themselves”. For company you could read country.

In terms of personal characteristics he says that “Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and wilful, humble and fearless”. We should value these characteristics over the ability to come up with a smart sound bite or to score points over the opposition.

As Scotland faces a challenging future with more powers our leaders will have more responsibility and we, as citizens, should make sure we get the leaders we need.

• Ian Marchant, chairman of Wood Group, is delivering the annual Institute of Directors Edinburgh Leadership Lecture at the University of Edinburgh Business School on Thursday

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