What makes a good (political) leader?

by Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for the Ottawa Office.  Monica has watched many leaders come and go during her years with the Ottawa Office.

I’ve recently been thinking about leadership qualities. Perhaps that is because today (January 11) is Sir John A. Macdonald Day in Canada or because the U.S. will be marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16. Or maybe it has something to do with the upcoming inauguration of U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, or this week’s Government of Canada cabinet shuffle, or the Conservative and NDP leadership races set for later this year. Perhaps a recent Sunday sermon on Jesus’ baptism influenced me.

Whatever the reason, the question of what makes a good leader has been on my mind. What qualities do we look for or need in our leaders, especially our political leaders?

No doubt, qualities of integrity, strength, confidence, charisma, and decisiveness come to mind. Leaders should be passionate, innovative, open-minded, insightful, inspirational, pro-active, and of course good communicators. These are the ideals.

john-a-macdonald

Sir John A. Macdonald was Canadian prime minister 1867-73 and 1878-91. Photo credit Library and Archives Canada

As Canada’s first Prime Minister and a Father of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald is generally considered to be a great Canadian leader. Described as charismatic, visionary, while also highly partisan and politically ruthless, he accomplished a great deal during his 19 years as prime minister.

His leadership wasn’t without controversy. There was the Pacific Scandal around the building of the national railway, and the execution of Louis Riel which increased animosity between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians.

Macdonald also enacted policies toward Indigenous people and Chinese immigrants which we regard today as outright racist. He implemented the Indian Act and laid the foundations for the Indian Residential School  System. He imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants once the railroad was built and their labour no longer needed.

Macdonald’s heavy drinking was no secret, but at the same time he seems to have been a good husband and father.  All in all, he was very human with good qualities as well as flaws.

Leaders today need a variety of skills and attributes. Political leaders in particular want to stand out from the crowd. Some do so with charisma and vision, while others offer ideas and statements which alienate. Even leaders of movements require some kind of hook to get people’s attention and support for their ideas. For Martin Luther King Jr. it was his ability to move a crowd with his oratory. He didn’t build a nation, but he certainly changed one.

chrystia-freeland

Chrystia Freeland was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs on January 10.  Photo credit Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Whether the leader of a nation or a movement, all leaders need to demonstrate some understanding of who they are leading and why. Whether it is to create something new, bring about significant change, or just exercise power, leaders are responsible to those they lead. Good leaders should engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those who support them. Ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits, though they may help someone achieve power. Real leaders admit when they are wrong and give credit where it is due.

We hope the women and men taking on new cabinet roles this year, as well as those who are continuing their mandates and those seeking leadership roles, will demonstrate good leadership with vision, integrity, and some humility. This won’t always be easy.

As we follow the leaders of 2017, let us remember to pray for them, asking God to grant them wisdom, strength of character, grace, understanding, and humility to be positive examples for future leaders.

2 thoughts on “What makes a good (political) leader?

  1. Thanks for this, Monica. I can’t remember a time when truth-telling and fib-telling were as much a part of the national discourse as they are at present. “Mainstream media lies”, “Alternate media exposes what’s true” . . . and the other way round. Seems to me the most significant attribute of a good leader is the unflinching adherence to “let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay.” Selectively telling it like it is or withholding the facts as parts of a strategy for gaining leadership may be the scourge of modern democracy.

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