Follow The Leader

Copyright 2008 New Zealand National Party

Our new prime minister will be sworn in next week, so I am told, and despite myself I find I am beginning to respect the guy. He's moved a lot faster than politicians normally do in setting up his government. He's shrewdly got the Maori Party on board, hitting three birds with one stone: extending his somewhat slim majority; alleviating some of the public apprehension about the ACT party having their rabid fangs in the treasury's leg; and setting himself up nicely for a broad electoral appeal in 2011. Very neatly done. I respect that. But do I trust him? I don't know yet. I am dreading a return of the new right policies of the 1980s and 1990s which did such damage to so many layers of our social fabric and suspect that under his neatly brushed pate he has only three basic ideas: privatisation, privatisation and privatisation.

We had the lowest voter turnout for years. Perhaps the election was such a foregone conclusion that people just didn't bother. Perhaps none of our potential parliamentarians excited much interest. Perhaps both of the above. In contrast people got very excited about the American election. I meet a lot of people in the course of a normal day and many of them, over the past few weeks, have spoken of the presidential race. Before the election the only note of apprehension I heard from anybody was that McCain might win, and no-one, not a single person that I have spoken to, has expressed any disappointment in the eventual outcome. There is some admiration for McCain's graciousness in defeat but there is universal admiration for Barack Obama and glee at his victory. People - many people - reported being moved to tears by his acceptance speech in Chicago. He is someone that people, even these people from a different country and with no direct stake in his election, would follow.

This is, simply, what a leader is: someone with followers. Some leaders achieve this by brute force, and some by dint of who and what they are. My feeling about our own new Prime Minister is that he is not yet a leader; at least not for the majority of his fellow New Zealanders. We have elected him not so much to lead us as to manage us and woe betide him if his management falters. He has the position that we have given him, but we will be watching him like keas circling a new born lamb waiting for him to do something that displeases us, and then we will be seeking his replacement.

Tragically, with the world and the church starting to come apart at the seams and with, if you'll pardon a shift in metaphors, dangerous shoals ahead, it's leadership, not management that we desperately need - in the world and in the church. Maybe that's why we get so excited when we see it somewhere else. And maybe, just maybe, John Key can produce some of it. I'm not going to hold my breath, but he has already shown the capacity to surprise me.


Anonymous said…

Thank you.

I believe David Lange to be the most scary politician in recent years. Scary in the sense he exhibited enormous skill in expressing the hopes of ordinary New Zealanders. His performance at the Oxford debate in the mid 80's is a stunning expression of what it means to be a member of this country. Yet he failed. I recall an interview of Geoffrey Palmer who was blunt asserting in the end Lange had become irrelevant to the process of government. In spite of his spectacular use of language and ability to get people on side Lange had been pushed to the sides, decisions were held in dark corners unavailable to scrutiny. [In my view the Labour government of New Zealand in the second half of the 1980's wrecked what New Zealand previously stood for -- another story.]

As I watched Obama's acceptance speech tears came to my eyes. Words which expressed the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans who believe what is is not all we can hope for. His speech was brilliant. But will he be allowed to lead? Or will the immensely powerful forces in congress, or the American people, confine him to the Oval Office making speeches which sound right but 'signify nothing'.

I am afraid for him and his term in office.
Bill Schroeder
Brian R said…
Thanks Kelvin for these insights.
I was, of course, ecstatic at the election of Obama and nervous re the NZ results. A year or so ago, one of my many reasons for moving to NZ was to escape the Howard Govt here in Australia. Now the position has reversed but hopefully Key is not Howard (and sadly Rudd is not Clark either). My thoughts about moving firmed when Australia went to Iraq and NZ did not. At that time I threw away my Aussie flag and the NZ flag is now displayed in my lounge room. I am nervously awaiting developments but hopefully, as you say, ACT will not get its way.
Alden said…
I think it is important to define the difference between Leadership and Management. Management is about the day to day nuts and bolts of running an organization. Leadership is about the vision thing and competent Management. Management is a subset of the skills of Leadership. A good Leader must first be a competent Manager.

In my opinion David Lange was neither a Leader or a Manager. He was a highly intelligent person with great oratory skills. His overall Leadership and Management was pretty flakey really, with some good leadership in isolated areas (e.g. the nuclear issue)

Leadership is about attending to the culture of an organization. What the leader attends to is very important. If the leader attends to human rights the culture focuses on these ideas. If the leader attends to war, the culture argues, debates and is focused on war. What the leader values and attends to is of utmost importance.

Leadership is a two way process, a dance in a way between the Leader and the followers, because ultimately followers will only be lead where they want to go, or can be convinced to go – hence the Leader attending to the Cultural Values of the organization / country.
Anonymous said…
So, leftists like fellow leftist Obama and dislike right-leaning Key? No surprise there then. In my (moderately) left-leaning days I thought the Millennium was at hand with the election of Born Again Christian Jimmy Cartuh and Armageddon with the victory of Evil Ronald Reagan. I wasn't much of a prophet then (who was?), but I do suspect Obama will be heartily disliked in less than a year. Watch Iran and Hamas.
Key won by 11 points, which looks pretty impressive to me; in most other places without the silly MMP system, that would translate to a massive majority, not a 'slim' one.
Alden said…
I would add one more concept to the definition of leadership which in a way may well define how well we deal with and react to the problems of an even more complex future that we are entering and it is this:

Leadership is able to empower people to Become Leaders Themselves. - In a hugely complex world the idea that we can elect a leader with a particular policy mix which will solve all our problems is unrealistic.

A leader can show the way, and can change laws that enslave, but in the long term each individual must pick up the torch for themselves and become a leader in their own lives and effect change and development, Socially, Politically and Spiritually.

Whether John Key or Barack Obama is capable of this sort of transformational leadership is too early to tell. The proof as always is in the pudding.
Anonymous said…
"A leader can show the way, and can change laws that enslave, but in the long term each individual must pick up the torch for themselves and become a leader in their own lives and effect change and development, Socially, Politically and Spiritually."

Alden, you sound like a Burkean Conservative. The Left (along with its twin, the corporatist Right) doesn't believe in individuals becoming leaders in their own lives. Throguh laws, regualtions nad fiscal control, it thinks they should be in a client relationship. to the Mother State.
Alden said…
Labels are interesting things. Am I a Burkean Conservative?
I don't know, although when I read the definition on Wikipedia there are aspects which I agree with.

I have always considered myself a liberal and left of centre - but what does this mean exactly in other peoples definitions? and the definitions change over time - the Labour party has its roots in Socialism but today could hardly be called 'Socialist' (owning the manufacture and distribution of goods and services).

Like a lot of people I am liberal on some issues and conservative on others.

Personally I don't mind being in a client relationship with the state so long as I can control things in a democratic / voting system to some extent by booting the bastards out when they lie and cheat (The Lange / Douglas Horseshit era for example).

What I like about being a client in a democratic state is that they provide things that are really handy like hospitals, universities and schools, roads, police etc etc and all the other infrastructure - Does that make me a Burkean, a complete Burke or a realist? Do I care? :-) :-)
VenDr said…
Anonymous 1: I'm not sure that it's possible - or very useful for that matter - to fathom Saddam's motives, let alone speculate on which course history might have taken if history had taken another course. I suspect it's a little more complex than a megalomaniac wanting some impressive bombs. But I think he was nonplussed at what was required of him. He didn't have WMD. He knew that the Americans knew he didn't have WMD. So faced with their insistent demands for something he knew didn't exist, and fearing that it was some sort of ruse to justify an invasion, what was he to do? Hedge, stall, fudge, play for time.

In this conversation, I find myself in the awkward position of being an apologist for one of the least pleasant people to have walked the planet in recent times. I don't like doing that. Saddam was a nasty piece of work. But he didn't have any role in 9/11. He didn't pose the threat to the world that he was accused of being. The whole pretext for the war in Iraq was a crock of ordure. Justifying it after the fact because of the unpleasantness of Saddam and his sons is simply not good enough to justify the colossal loss of Iraqi and Allied lives. If it's about removing unjust and cruel regimes where are the troops in Zimbabwe?

Anonymous 2: Who knows? But I suspect you will demonstrate enviable consistency in your prophetic abilities.

Anonymous 3: How does one become a leader in one's own life? Leadership is a social construction. It requires at least two people: A leader and a follower. You seem to be falling into the trap of reductionism which so plagues Western culture: of ignoring any reality other than individual human psyches.
VenDr said…
oops. Anonymous 1 was commenting on another post
Alden said…
Kelvin you ask, "How does one become a leader in one's own life? Leadership is a social construction. It requires at least two people."

I stated, ".....each individual must pick up the torch for themselves and become a leader in their own lives"

I guess the implication of what I am saying is that individual Lives involve families - wives, husbands, children. And these families live within the bigger context of the extended family and their communities. Taking leadership in these contexts is something that is worthwhile and life enhancing - and it works there are leaders everywhere.

In terms of becoming "a leader in one's own life?" (meaning - myself leading me,) may technically be "reductionist" as you say;

But what I mean is that each person takes responsibility as far as they can for their own growth as an individual, and in a sense "leads themselves" i.e. makes and implements, choices, decisions and plans for their own personal development.

This is what I am meaning despite my wobbly semantics.
VenDr said…
Alden, you point to something that is a feature of contemporary political life: the blurring of left and right. John Key's moves since the election have been about occupying and securing the middle ground. On the left, occupying the place left vacant by the old Labour Party is Jim Anderton. On the right is ACT. In the middle are palest blue National and slightly rose coloured Labour, slugging it out for the really important place where all the votes are. The Greens are left wing in regard to economic and some social policy but are really defined by the environmental agenda which should cut across left and right. The Maori Party are generally left wing, but their stance derives not so much from a commitment to socialism as to traditional Maori tribal values - which lets them cuddle up to the Nats when and if it should be necessary and not have any ideological qualms about doing so.

Left and Right don't have a lot of meaning any more. Perhaps conservative and liberal (or progessive?) are more useful demarcations?
VenDr said…
Bill: Yes Lange was a disappointment for his lack of direction and lack of staying power when it mattered. Still head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries though.
VenDr said…
OK, Alden I can see that and agree with you. The argument in politics is often about the state assuming responsibilities which should belong to the individual.
But all over the world right now "conservative" governments are falling over themselves to interfere in the economic system - it's very confusing.
Anonymous said…
'But all over the world right now "conservative" governments are falling over themselves to interfere in the economic system - it's very confusing.'

Agreed - because they're not really acting in a conservative way, which is letting people face the consequences of their actions, for good or ill. Small businesses, like plumbers or specialist manufacturers that go bankrupt can't expect a bailout, but greed and incompetence on a major scale seems to be rewarded. Oldtimers called this 'moral hazard'. Of course nobody wants to see the whole caboodle collapse - if my negligent neighbor lets his house catch fire, I will be in danger if I don't intervene.
But why was the world financial system allowed to get into such a parlous state in the first place? What was the political pressure that let Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae issue all those fraudulent NINJA (no income, no job or assets)mortgages to poor people? The West has gotten itself horribly in hock to China and it's the next generation that will have to pay. A 'free market' means nothing if there isn't also probity nad accountability - it's just a mad game of pass the parcel.