Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The "Tender Beast" in Stephen Harper---His "Big Shaggy"---Isn't Being Felt Much

You can’t understand twenty-first- century politics with an eighteenth century brain.

---George Lakoff, The Political Mind

Descartes’ theory of humans wasn’t quite right. We use emotion to reason and we can’t always be reasonable. How we emote and reason---about 98 per cent--- happens unconsciously. Seasoned political and non-political leaders know this well. But, it can backfire.

As a presenter at the 20th World Conference on Disaster Management on the interplay of charisma, character and confidence in defining a leader’s impact, I conducted an informal survey of my audience. I asked participants to rate on a scale of ten the charisma of ten well-known political leaders, six men and four women, eight of whom are still alive.

Although I flashed a PPT slide of Harper smiling and holding a cuddly kitten, he came in dead last with an almost unanimous rating of zero. Well a couple of people gave him a 1. All others were rated four or better no matter their political persuasion. What’s going on?

George Lakoff in The Political Mind argues that “conservatives” generally operate in a strict parent mode: obedience, authority, discipline and punishment. They value order and don’t like ambiguity. On the other hand, “progressives” on the whole appeal to the nurturing parent model: empathy, responsibility for oneself and empowerment to carry out those responsibilities. They don’t mind chaos and see complexity a lot. Of course there are many who are in-between too. Prime Minister Harper comes across more “conservative” than “progressive”. This despite having implemented what some believe on both sides to be “progressive” policies in certain areas.

In this “Contextual Age” in which we now live, as coined by Daniel Pink where collaboration reigns supreme out of necessity, Stephen Harper’s mindset and subsequent style appear to be out of synch. Sometimes, striking the fear of reprisal into the hearts of people is necessary, especially in an emergency. But, as a daily default, “Big Shaggy” style---not effective.

The participants, from a variety of disciplines, were adamant: Harper is rigid, cold, inflexible, controlling and so on. If charisma is about being “inspiring”, “passionate”, “visionary” and “having a cause”, Stephen Harper simple does not rate.

I don’t think he’s worried either. But, maybe he should be. The management literature is replete with failed leaders who did not connect with people on a positive emotional level. Like damaging the environment, in the long run, it is unsustainable.

Related resources and Blog:

David Brooks (June 7, 2010). “History for Dollars”, New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/opinion/08brooks.html 

Daniel Pink (2005). A Whole New Mind.

Linda Pickard. (July 29, 2009). “The Jen Ratio: A More Nuanced View of Emotional Intelligence for Leaders”. http://nkleadership.blogspot.com/2009/07/jen-ratio-more-nuanced-view-of.html