Studying Political leadership at Oxford is good grounding when you actually meet in person someone like Lord Trimble – the winner of the Noble Peace Prize for his work in Northern Ireland. I was fortunate to host him at a charity dinner and also have a few words with him about leadership.
This is a week when Prince Charles shook hands with Gerry Adams, believed to be a former member of the IRA, who killed the Prince’s uncle Lord Mountbatten.
There is much we can learn from a man who shaped peace in a part of the United Kingdom which was more divided by terror and bitterness than the mainland ever has been. Many therefore choose the less courageous path of being a spokesman for their followers – that is not leadership.
Leadership = courage
If you don’t feel you’re being courageous you’re simply not pushing enough to make a big enough change. Here was a leader who had to stand with terrorists and tell his own side to work with them. The hardest thing is not trying to persuade your advisory, but your own. That takes courage. Because your own can take you down internally well before you get to stand up.
Leadership is not about the leader
As Lord Trimble pointed out in his speech and when I spoke to him, there are thousands unseen who by carrying out what Wordsworth called, "those little nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love" are leaders.
Leadership is a certain type of vision
You may think you should be one of those politicians ‘I am personally and perhaps culturally conditioned to be sceptical of speeches which are full of sound and fury, idealistic in intention, but impossible of implementation; and I resist the kind of rhetoric which substitutes vapour for vision.’
Be careful about clichés that as a leader you must have a vision. Sure you must – but it must be practical, implementable, else the people will quickly reject you as a false leader. And leadership of the practical is a lot harder than the ideal – because you cannot get away with ‘vapour’.
Beware the Fanatic Leader
You think leadership is selfless? Remember the definition then of a fanatic Lord Trimble gives: "A political fanatic is someone who is more interested in you than in himself. At first that might seem as an altruist, but look closer and you will see the terrorist. A political fanatic is not someone who wants to perfect himself. No, he wants to perfect you. He wants to perfect you personally, to perfect you politically, to perfect you religiously, or racially, or geographically.’
Lead from within
As the Conservatives are going to learn, leading is about leading not just a country, or a larger constituency, but those who have signed up to loyally follow you – and they can be the assassins. Julius Caeser to the semi-fictional Godfather – the enemies of a leader are often their closest allies. ‘Thus each reformist group has a moral obligation to deal with its own fanatics. The Serbian democrats must take on the Serbian fascists. The PLO must take on Hammas.’