Howard Gardner’s exploration of “Leading Minds – an anatomy of leadership” could easily, and nearly was, called an exploration of influence. This got me thinking about the recent British-first election debates between Brown, Cameron and Clegg. More on this later …
Gardner draws a distinction between direct and indirect leaders. Direct leaders such as politicians, military men and business gurus seek to exercise power and influence people; whereas indirect leaders such as scientists, novelists and painters lead indirectly through their work and seek to influence people through the creation of symbolic products. Gardner reveals the key to leadership for both direct and indirect leaders: the ability to create a story that affects the thoughts, feelings and actions of others.
Harry Truman said: “A leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it.”
Gardner’s thesis is that leaders achieve their effectiveness chiefly through the stories they relate, not just the stories that they tell. In addition to communicating these stories, leaders often embody these stories themselves. The way in which direct leaders conduct their lives – their embodiments – must be clearly perceptible to those they are trying to influence.
Gardner also categorises leaders according to the innovativeness of the stories that they try to tell. The ordinary leader, by definition the most common one, simply relates the traditional story of his or her group as effectively as possible. He does not seek to stretch the consciousness of the contemporary audience. The innovative leader takes a story that is latent within the population and gives it a fresh twist. Often they may be revising themes and forms that have fallen into disuse. By far the rarest individual is the visionary leader. Not content to relate a current story or to reactivate a story drawn from a remote or recent past, this individual actually creates a new story. One may quarrel with the categorisation of Thatcher as innovative, whilst Gandhi may earn the title of visionary. Indeed Gandhi, in his characteristic magnanimousness, is reputed to have said something like: “I merely stood in front of a crowd of people that was going somewhere”. [Anybody know the actual quotation ?]
Nick Clegg appears to have done well out of the first round of TV debate. What kind of story was he trying to relate ? For me, the simplest message of all was: [my paraphrase] “Politics as you’ve seen it is broken and discredited, that was the other two parties – I am a credible alternative for change.” Nick Clegg even opened the debate with statement:
“I believe the way things are is not the way things have to be. You’re going to be told tonight by these two that the only choice you can make is between two old parties who’ve been running things for years. I’m here to persuade you that there is an alternative. “
Clegg went on to talk about it’s no good politician’s talking about change, they’ve got to start delivering.
The infamous “wiggle meter” shot through the roof when Clegg talked about the expenses debacle.
Only time will tell whether the wiggle meter continues to keep rising. But, one thing is certain we now, at least for this election period, are into a true period of three-party politics.
More on Gardner in a future blog post …