Boris Johnson and Leadership

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As I write, the conservative party conference has just ended with David Cameron’s closing, rather dour, speech. But all the talk is of the new star Boris Johnson rather than ‘Dave’ as Boris calls him. Indeed, there is much gossip about whether Boris is the new saviour of the party; the new leader in waiting.

There are, of course, many reasons for this speculation. Large amongst them  is some disappointment at David Cameron’s many U-turns. Bigger still is the fear that he will be have become unelectable at the next general election. So what leadership qualities does Boris have?

The first is the fact that he has become a celebrity so that all refer to him as simply ‘Boris’. Just like Madonna, Morrissey, or Sting, so Boris Johnson has become simply Boris. In this, he has almost become a brand in himself with the brand values of colourful and maverick, and a range of rhetoric about being a “tax-cutting conservative”. Overall, he is larger than life, he can say things in memorable ways, and he attracts votes. Above all, he has won two difficult elections.

Good. These are qualities you’d want in a leader. But what you also want is to know what he stands for – is he trustworthy and how will he behave in a tight corner? And this is perhaps where David Cameron went wrong. Although he makes many pronouncements, it’s hard to know what he really stands for. By responding too readily to changing circumstances he begins to look like he bends with the wind.

So how does Boris fare? Good, he appears focused on ‘traditional’ conservatism. But bad, people mumble under their breath about his behaviour: his philandering nature, his buffoonery, his ability to make gaffs, and whether there is any thought-through policy behind the rhetoric. If Boris became leader, what skeletons would appear from his cupboard? It’s a close call.

And what might all this mean for other leaders? How clear are you about what you stand for, and how well thought through is your rhetoric? What consistency do you display between your statements and your behaviour? Do people trust you?


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