Reboot Alberta

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Catch 23 of Political Leadership

Everyone knows what a Catch 22 is. I have developed a new paradox that applies to the processes and practices of political leadership. I call it the Catch 23. That is the situation where the talents and skills it takes to get the job of a political leader are very different from those it takes to do the job of political leader.

Campaigns are large scale social activities dominated by manufactured simplified images, crisp vacuous sound bites, pleasing photo ops and truncated answers to complex concept based questions. It is about showing strength and domination and setting the attention getting agenda with professional media relations techniques. It is about issues management that masquerade as meaningful and resonant policy pronouncements. It is a decentralizing activity with endorsements and group think that is focused on not “messing up” as opposed to being momentous bold and courageous.

Leadership, on the other hand, is individualized, lonely and centralizing because of the enormous power and responsibility and accountability focused at the top, on one person. It is about change and all real change always happens at the margins, were it is uncomfortable and risky and comes with consequences, good and bad. It is about complexity and nuance, interests and influences, pressures and personalities that have to be balanced, bartered and prioritized. Some times principles get bent and promises get broken.

It is about culture that gets expressed in terms of competing principles and rivalling values that are either personal to the leader or collectively held by the society. The competition and tradeoffs amongst principles and values always get complicated and often misinterpreted by somebody or other. That usually results in political and personal consequences for the leader, and they are rarely good consequences.

Then this all has to be done in public, without a “dress rehearsal” and with out a “safety net” to catch you if you fail. It has to be done in an adversarial governance model that too often relishes having a good fight rather than finding the best solution. It is all very personal and personality driven when you look at the realities of modern politics and power. Each leader is captive of their own history, experiences, interests and aptitudes which impacts their judgement adds to the personality dimension of political leadership.

So how are we citizens then supposed to choose leaders given all of this? Obviously very carefully! The big questions are who are these candidates as people? What do they stand for and why? What kind of people are they and what kind of world do they come from. Are they decent, dedicated dependable and decisive? Do they know how to deal with people, and I mean all kinds of people? How do they handle pressure? Do they have a strong personal support base of family and close friends to help them as persons not just as politicians. Finally what is their world view? Are they, for example open curious and adaptable or are they controlling, contained and constrained?

Government like any other organization or institution never made a decision about anything. It is the people who lead and participate in them that are the real sources of decisions and directions. So who you elect is absolutely critical to the directions and destinations we undertake collectively as a society and how they will impact us individually and as family and community.

When you vote for the PC Leader/Premier tomorrow – slow down for a few moments and think twice about what you are voting for and why as much if not more than who you are voting for.

Then vote twice …#1 Ed Stelmach, #2 Jim Dinning. You will be glad you did.


  1. Have you ever noticed that blogs for Stelmach tend to be thoughtful and have real ideas in them, whereas those for Morton and Dinning are either the on-line version of a sound bite, or a personal attack on the other?

  2. I have noticed that. One can respectfully disagree without being disagreeable in every respect.

  3. I want to say that if Ted Morton wins tomorrow that I will feel - as someone who mailed in my vote from South Korea to vote PC - that my vote will have been stolen from me. If I'd wanted an Alliance style, black and white, conservative government then I'd have voted for them, as would Albertans. It will be a real shame. If Morton wins, there needs to be a general election. He has no mandate from the people.

  4. Anonymous12:59 pm

    Excellent essay, Ken.
    The comment of Mr. Gebhart is very enlightning. People read beyond the site's prose. People's perception and opnion of a candidate is not only based on their "brochure" style web site. Actually, people check the whole thing - the Web site, the accompanying blogs of supporters, detractors, political commentators, reporters; i.e. the viral aspect of a web site. All recent stats show that generally, web sites and blogs are becoming more influential in helping people to make up their mind about a candidate or even a soap brand. In this leadership's race, candidates have generally created nice online "brochures" about themselves. But they have failed to manage the bigger picture of the internet. Maybe next time, they'll get it.


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