Who should lead a nation?

There are two types of leaders: boring administrators and inspirational heroes.

Who would you prefer to lead your country?

Personally, I want a boring administrator to lead my nation. Boring administrators fulfill the role of a national leader, which is to essentially ensure that schools are funded, rubbish is collected, hospitals are staffed and trains run on time. It’s a boring job, best performed by boring people. Politicians are public servants and the highest ranking politician in the land is the highest ranking public servant in the land. A highly-paid and famous public servant, but still a public servant.

Unfortunately, too many world leaders have forgotten this, and have succumbed to the temptation to be seen as strong, charismatic, brave heroes.

Politicians do paperwork. Ultimately, that is their job. They review current policies regarding public services. They draft new policies and negotiate to have them implemented. Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum will strive to have their world view reflected in policy, but ultimately all of them are administrators.

That’s not to say politicians are boring per se. They can be as exciting and interesting as they want in their free time. They can front alternative rock bands, make funky art, do extreme sports or whatever they want, as long as they remember that when they are performing their role as a politician, they are supposed to be boring.

Brave, inspirational, strong and charismatic leaders struggle to combine substance with their style.

Donald Trump epitomises style over substance. His substantial fortune funded a slick public relations campaign which won him the election and kept him in office. He deliberately positioned himself as a strong, charismatic leader making bold statements to persuade impressionable voters to elect him. It worked. He even coined the phrase ‘Fake News’ to drown out the voices of reason, the voices of the boring administrators who offered the electorate statistics, facts and objective information gleaned from the boring paperwork they had done in their role as public servants. Trump reigned as a populist leader who was apparently strong and brave, and did nothing to serve the public. If you vote for strong leaders, you risk creating another Trump.

In Mexico some years ago, people vowed to vote for Enrique Pena Nieto because he is ‘muy guapo’, or very good looking. Perhaps not the best reason to vote for a president. It worked, though, and he became president, but few people would nominate Mexico as a land of public service efficiency.

Leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Boris Johnson in the UK and Scott Morrison in Australia have also fallen into the Trump trap. They posit themselves as strong, courageous leaders who can improve and protect their country, but forego the boring administrative tasks required of a leader.

Scott Morrison is called ‘Trump Lite’ and famously displayed his organisational incompetence during the recent Australian bushfire crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and the damaging floods. A boring administrator would have saved many Australian plants and animals, homes and people’s lives.

Morrison also makes endless statements claiming to ‘stand up to’ fellow world leaders in times of crisis. He famously attacks China when his popularity wanes and pretends to be courageous towards the emerging superpower. The statements increase his popularity among gullible, impressionable voters (and the racists) who demand inspirational, brave leaders, but they are not the wise words of a skilled administrator addressing the country’s largest trading partner. A boring administrator would treat China appropriately, and protect Australia’s economy and exports.

Brave, strong charismatic leaders often need an enemy. They will often create one to appear strong, and this can manifest as real life conflict.

Morrison’s predecessor also succumbed to popularism. Former prime minister Tony Abbott flaunted his impressive muscular physique honed through daily exercise, and implied that it was central to his ability to run the country. Yes, it was impressive for a man of his age, but do you need a six pack to manage tax rates? He also promised to shirt-front Vladimir Putin at a world leader’s summit, before eventually shaking his hand and smiling. Not only did he fail to deliver his promise, he also placated voters who expect a leader to be physically strong and brave, rather than boring and intelligent. He also forgot that you can’t shirt-front someone who never wears a shirt.

Putin is himself a strong, charismatic leader. He poses endlessly in photos boasting of his physical virility and prowess. He portrays himself as a strong leader and he eventually believed his own hype. Experts attribute his invasion of Ukraine to his ego, and his desperation to be seen as a strong leader, in the vein of a conqueror determined to restore the glory of Russia and the former Soviet Union. If you vote for strong leaders, you run the risk of creating another Putin.

Strong leaders keep us safe.

This is a popular belief and refrain. Proponents point to leaders like Winston Churchill as examples of charismatic and brave leaders who protected a nation during times of war. Yes, a brave leader might guide us through a war, making rousing speeches of courage and resilience, vowing to face the enemy anywhere at any time, even on the beaches. But a skilled administrator, a boring public servant, could prevent us from going to war in the first place.

“She’s got no balls.”

You’d hope not, because then she wouldn’t be a she – but that’s a different discussion. The quote comes from an acquaintance discussing candidates in an upcoming local election, made in reference to the incumbent female representative. The conservative, middle-aged man believed the woman wasn’t strong, brave, confident or aggressive enough to lead their region.

Why?

They didn’t say. They just believed she had no balls. Clearly they expected a leader with as much style as substance, perhaps even more of the former. They didn’t want a boring public servant.

Media darlings

Modern politicians must exist within the modern media landscape. They must present well and this will force all of them to consider ‘optics’ before and during their political term. However, many politicians prioritise optics too greatly and neglect their duties. Only voters can prevent leaders from concentrating too heavily on optics and instead force them to dedicate themselves to their work.

Next time you consider who to vote for in an election, ask yourself:

Does charisma staff hospitals?

Does charisma care for the elderly?

Does charisma improve children’s literacy?

Does charisma make the trains run on time?

Does charisma keep wages high?

Does charisma create employment?

Also remember this:

Boring politicians do their job and let us get on with our lives.

Boring politicians are not noticed, except when they make mistakes. When the trains don’t run on time, hospitals are understaffed, school children are left without teachers and roads are full of potholes, politicians are noticed. They shouldn’t be. They should administer our nations and regions and remain in the background.

Boring politicians avoid the headlines. Boring politicians resist the lure of fame, they ignore the temptation of the perfect soundbite or witty retort at their opponents.

Boring politicians are more efficient. Thus, you spend less time dealing with their departments, and more time enjoying your own life.

Image: Aditya Joshi

World War III.

The world was thrown into chaos. Bombs tore apart entire towns and the dead bodies piled up on the streets too quickly to be taken away or buried. The stench brought more tears to the eyes of those in constant mourning, and the corpses of deceased relatives provided cover from snipers and crazed gunmen. Drones battled for airspace and fighter jets blasted through the skies with such frequency the people had stopped checking if they were friend of foe.

The constant bombardment was deafening and frightening, and broken only by the cries of orphaned children.

Food was scarce. The hungry had already looted the stores and the fields. Stomachs rumbled in tune with the tanks, and the people grew accustomed to the rancid taste of permanently blackened skies.

Most people forget who they were fighting; forgot who the enemy was, or was supposed to be. In the early days, when the mediums of communication were still functioning, they listened to their leaders identify and attack the enemy with impassioned speeches. The enemy wore a certain uniform, spoke a certain tongue. Soon the patriotism wore thin and the increasingly vehement verbal attacks fell on deaf ears. The people fought for survival, not for their nations, or their leaders.

Despite the danger and hunger. Despite the destruction and the obliteration, a greater fear loomed. The fear of the MAD Button. The button of Mutually Assured Destruction which would release the nuclear weapons counties had been stockpiling in the name of deterrence and pragmatic foreign policy.

Nothing would survive.

The people asked themselves, how did we get here?

It all started on a lunch line.

Yes, a simple lunch line preceding the buffet at an international summit for the world’s super powers. The summit had been convened to combat the latest pandemic, the impending environmental disaster and the refugee crisis. It had also promised to deliver world peace. It plunged the world into war.

The disaster began when event organisers suddenly announced a casual outdoor setting for lunch on the final day, deliberately forcing world leaders to line up for their food, assuring attendees it would,

“…pivot their personal and professional brand towards an empathetic and approachable persona, while positioning leaders as down-to-earth…”

Entourages hastily consulted brand managers, and wardrobes were adjusted accordingly. Donald ignored his minders and snapped on his famous red baseball cap, “…to protect me from the sun” he claimed. Leaders were reminded to smile and keep conversations light, and to remember that cameras could now capture them from every angle.

While the world’s most powerful people grabbed a plate and stood in line, trying desperately to hide their discomfort and impatience, a voice was heard from the back of the line.

“Scotty, let me in,” Donald called to his friend when he spotted the fried chicken piled high.

“Um,” Scotty deliberated, assessing the personal and political risk of letting his friend push in and jump the queue. His minders were snacking on granola bars back in the makeshift office, so Scotty had only a few seconds to make a decision that would have irreversible ramifications.

He’s an ally, his mind told him, but he’s probably the most hated leader in the world, even more hated than me. Well, I’m not hated, just ignored really – that’s why they all walked away from me after the joint photo and left me standing there like the kid no one plays with. Luckily I had my phone in my pocket and I could pretend to check some emails. I think I got away with it.

Should I let Donald in? Everyone’s looking, especially Vladimir and Xinping. What will Aussies think? My supporter base loves Donald, and I can’t upset them. But even people in his own country are getting sick of him, what if he doesn’t last, what if I align myself with a failure, a loser? Will I lose votes? How will it affect me? I know Peter wants my job, and Rupert created Donald before he created me.

Then there’s Xinping. He doesn’t look happy. Will this mean more tariffs, more restrictions on exports, more lost votes?

Who would buy our beef, wheat, our coal…? If my party loses farmers and miners, we’re stuffed. Gosh I wish my staff were here, they’d know what to do. They never told me I’d have to make decisions when they made me PM.

“Drink beer,” they said

“Go to the footy,” they said.

And Vladimir, he’s always looking for a fight, or a chance to take his shirt off.

Time kept ticking away…

I could ignore him, Scotty thought. I could play with my phone again, or talk to the woman behind me. What’s her name again? Angie, Andrea, Annabel – I think it starts with an A and she seems to be important, she talks a lot at meetings, nagging us all to do something about electric cars – nagging about something else – women eh! Wait, she’s the one who gave me the dirty look when I mentioned clean coal – nah, I’m not talking to her.

Donald called again. His stomach was rumbling, like the war tanks he had just sold to the leader of a nation he’d never heard of, while other leaders discussed plans for world peace.

“Scotty, come on man, let me in”

Spilt seconds ticked by. Scotty felt the sweat run down his back and hoped it wasn’t showing on his face. Yes or no. I have to decide, right now.

With a smirk, he said yes.

Donald strolled triumphantly to the front of the line, beside his friend Scotty. Vladimir and Xi fumed, and declared in unison:

“This is war!”

Image: http://www.istockphotos.com