The cult of the strongman leader

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This piece in today’s Financial Times describes how leadership focused around the so-called “strongman leader” is leading us into international instability.

“From Moscow to Manila,” Gideon Rachman writes, “… the nationalist “strongman” leader is back in fashion. If the US elects Donald Trump next week, it would be following an international trend, not leading it.”

China is following the same route with President Xi Jinping, as are Turkey, Hungary, India, and Japan.

Autocratic leaders such as these “bring a distinct style to international diplomacy. They tend to want to sort things out man-to-man, rather than relying on institutions or international law… This… doubtless exciting. But it is also intrinsically unstable. Bargains struck between strongman leaders have a tendency to fly apart. President Erdogan has shown a tendency to form close bonds with other leaders that deteriorate into bitter antagonism when he feels slighted. The colossal ego of Mr Trump might also lead to a highly unstable style of personalised diplomacy.”

The cult of the “strong man” is actually the cult of a weak person putting on a front to hide his inability to cope with uncertainty.

What we need instead is a style of leadership that is grounded, stable, and collaborative. Gideon Rachman makes the mistake of associating this approach with female leaders: Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and possibly Hillary Clinton.

But attitude of mind does not come with a set of genitals attached, or vice-versa.

What we need is leaders not with a set of physical characteristics but with an attitude of mind that can cope with ambiguity and uncertainty, that can find long-lasting solutions to complex volatile situations.

These are the skills that are taught by the tools of Inner Leadership.

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