What would it take for you to stop whatever you’re doing and follow someone, no matter where they were going?
Must they be great orators? Gifted speakers have a huge advantage in attracting followers (that’s why so many leaders are good talkers… and visa versa) but do you actually need eloquence in a leader? While we’re at it, how important, really, is morality, or for that matter, intelligence? Are they always absolutely essential? If not, what is?
Personally, I have just two demands. I’d sacrifice all the expertise and the charm and the courage and the hair for anyone who could:
a) Be Right, and
b) Sound Sure
Leaders have to deal with complex challenges, so Being Right about the environment or the economy or the future is an on-going effort, not a qualification. But anyone doing their level best to understand what was really happening and to communicate the facts accurately and precisely gets my respect and trust straight away.
On the other hand, society is filled with people who Sound Sure. Priests and politicians, athletes and business people, celebrities, athletes and shock jocks confidently weigh in on all sorts of issues, usually without any real grasp of the subject.
Unfortunately, these two qualities rarely come together in one individual. Scientists are as close to Being Right about their particular field as anyone can get, but you’ll never hear a climatologist proclaim that human activity is cooking the atmosphere, or a biologist announce that evolution is a fact, or an immunologist condemn parents who don’t immunise their kids as idiots. They don’t say these things (no matter how much they might want to) because the history of science teaches them that a sacred ‘truth’ can be destroyed with a single discovery.
And you know what happens when people who know what they’re talking about aren’t talking about it? People with no idea but plenty of opinions step in and fill the silence. As Napoleon said; ‘When the eagles are silent, the parrots jabber.’
Which is where our public debates are right now on all of the big issues, from immunisation to immigration, from criminology to climatology. The people most likely to Be Right aren’t prepared to say for sure, while the folks who Sound Sure probably aren’t right. And here’s the scary part; in any debate between the two, the public is more likely to trust confidence over evidence.
So where will my leader come from? Will someone who knows what they’re talking about step up and speak out, or will one of the people doing all the talking step back from the microphone and brush up on their knowledge?
So long as they can Be Right and Sound Sure, I don’t care.