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Leadership in Politics: What Makes a Political Leader?
Anoop Nautiyal, 3/1/2012

Google the word “leadership” and you get hundreds of links on the subject. Interestingly, almost all links talk about leadership in the corporate sector and almost none about leadership in politics.

The five states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur in India are going to the polls and if there ever was a time to exhibit inspirational, ethical and result-oriented leadership in politics, similar to what we see very often in the corporate world, it is now. Politicians cutting across all parties face multiple and complex challenges many of which are typical of a corporate leader. The corporate leader needs to set a vision, communicate that vision, work with multiple stakeholders, articulate goals and motivate his teams. Goals are to be met within set time frames exhibiting the highest levels of integrity.

Though their environments are vastly different, politicians face many similar challenges. They need to establish their credibility within the party both at the national and the state level and with their constituents. Politicians work through Government officials and deliver results. They need to be able administrators with clean and honest images. On top of this, the public is unrelenting in its demands and puts enormous pressures on the politician to deliver and perform.

Clearly, in this challenging environment and in view of the elections, the politician needs some of the leadership skills that help the corporate leader to excel.

Politicians, as well as the public that elects its representatives, could pick a thing or two from the thought provoking article written by Daniel Goleman in 1995 called “What makes a leader”. Goleman articulated that what makes a leader truly successful, amongst other prerequisites, is EQ or emotional intelligence. Within the EQ basket there were five components that the leader needed to have in order to be called emotionally intelligent. Though the article focuses only on corporate leadership there are many lessons that can be learnt by the politicians in the country.

Self-awareness is the first component of being high on the EQ index and means having a deep understanding of ones emotions, strengths and weaknesses. Self-aware political leaders would have the courage to speak up and admit to their failures. So often we get to see so many politicians who do not give direct answers and try escaping when put in difficult situations. They do not realize that their lack of self -awareness, or lack of self-confidence, is so visible to the audience. Self-awareness extends to a person’s understanding of his values and goals. Politicians with high self-awareness, for instance, are less liable to get swayed by offers of greed or self-gratification. That would go against their value systems.

Self-regulation, the second component that would make a political leader respected by the public, is the trait that makes the politician control his bad moods and emotional impulses. Shouting at others and being disrespectful, for instance, at helpless Government officials will not win a politician many admirers over the longer run. Imagine your next elected representative as someone who would calmly listen and try to understand the local issues, pick his words very carefully and come up with sustainable solutions. Such self-regulated politicians are also able to create an environment of trust over the longer term with their actions. Self-regulation goes hand in glove with self-awareness and high levels of these are certain to give us better political leaders.

Motivation is the third component and the question is what really motivates our politicians? People will be inclined to elect the politician who is motivated with the larger good than the politician who is motivated by good for himself, his family and his immediate cronies. How do we identify the politician who is motivated to do good for the community? Such politicians will often have enormous energy to take new challenges and would be restless with the status quo. They would try and be innovative in their political and problem solving approaches. Motivated politicians are also more likely to pursue relentlessly the targets that their party and they set for themselves.

Empathy is the fourth component of the emotionally intelligent political leader. The empathetic politician would truly care about the state and its citizens and be concerned about its pace or lack of development. We need more empathetic politicians. The politician with empathy would truly feel the pain of the old lady in the Government hospital without the Doctor, he would wonder why we have so many road accidents during the pilgrimage season in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and how can he support to create jobs in the hilly districts of our state. An empathetic politician is also more likely to be loyal to his party than another politician with low empathy levels.

The final component of EQ as described by Goleman is Social Skills. The socially skillful politician would be much less selfish than many others of his ilk and would have a wide network, which he can tap for the public good. Social skills is not only about folding or shaking hands or building superficial or selfish relationships. The socially skillful politician is very likely to be an expert persuader and knows when to make an emotional plea or when to appeal to reason.

Self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation are all self-management skills while empathy and social skills; concern the politician’s ability to manage relationships with others.

The question is will the elections in early 2012 in the five states in India give us such leaders?

Political parties are today focused on doing surveys to identify the candidates with the most chances of winning the assembly elections. Perhaps, that time is not very far when the political parties would start competency mapping for the potential aspirants and the next anti corruption crusader after Anna Hazare would demand that all politicians standing for assembly elections be emotionally intelligent. Our nation is bound to prosper the day that will happen. We would then have 70 emotionally intelligent representatives who would all be self-aware, self-regulated, motivated, empathetic and socially skilled in making Uttarakhand the true jewel of the country.

I truly hope that we can see a change during our lifetime. 

Anoop Nautiyal is a Dehradun,Uttarakhand based social and corporate leader with global and national leadership experience in the social, Government and for profit sectors. He can be reached at anforuk@gmail.com