Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dion lost on emotions not substance

Our fascination with Barack Obama and Sarah Palin underscores the power of emotions in a leader’s “ratings”. That ability to connect is gate number one. Substance comes later as we ponder who will step up to the leadership challenge. Stephane Dion never had a chance as he could not open his emotional gate enough.

A story by Peter Newman in the October 22, 2008 Globe and Mail brought the mystery of Dion’s disappointing results at the polls into perspective. He recounts meeting up with Dion during the election campaign and proposing how he could win nearly every vote in the country: “Instead of Stephane, call your self Celine.” “You will win by a landslide.”
Although meant clearly as “tongue in cheek”, Dion did not react by making a witty comment or gesture. He simply looked puzzled.

Maybe he thinks too much which causes hesitation rather than spontaneity. In this instance, it is quite possible he truly did not understand because of the nuance of the joke in English. This is a problem when people want to connect first and foremost and that comes from the heart.

Based on his research on leadership, Daniel Goleman considers the emotional task of the leader as primal. “It is both the original and the most important part of leadership.” “Tribal chieftains or shamanesses earned their place in large part because their leadership was emotionally compelling.” The great French philosopher Diderot would concur as he exclaimed that “only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things.” Stephane Dion’s passion (which he has) could not be expressed in the right notes to be felt and heard.

This primordial emotional role cuts across cultures. The Globe Project on leadership ( found three primary leadership dimensions that are universally regarded as positives in leadership:

First is “charismatic/inspirational”. The most strongly endorsed contributor to good leadership worldwide, it is linked to being positive, dynamic, encouraging, motivating and someone who is a confidence-builder.

Next is “team integrator”. It means being communicative, informed and a good coordinator.

The third top universal leadership dimension viewed around the world as desirable is “integrity”. It relates to leaders being trustworthy, just and honest.

Judging from the media accounts of Dion and certainly from the comments to the editor pages, Dion scored well on “integrity” only. He was often quoted by critics as being a “lone wolf”, ignoring or rejecting the opinions of his advisors and caucus (for example, to play down the “green shift” and to counter Stephen Harper’s negative advertisements with some of the same). Reason seems to have won the day with Mr. Dion at his peril.

At the end of the day, reason and solid evidence must prevail for effective leadership. But our humanness demands connection first through “the audacity of hope” as Barack Obama so eloquently describes in his book of the same name and through assurances and clarity when we face threats and uncertainties. That’s why Stephen Harper still has his minority and Barack Obama is poised to become the next President of the United States by a landslide.

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