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Editorial: Lost leaders

When we select our leaders, are we promoting skill sets that are really what we want? —
When we select our leaders, are we promoting skill sets that are really what we want? — 123RF Stock Photo

Here’s an interesting thesis: what exactly did we expect?

And here’s a second one — why is anyone surprised?

The subject of this thesis is Tony Clement, the shadow justice critic who is now out of the federal Conservative party after embarrassingly being the subject of an extortion attempt over compromising internet images — not once but twice — and a host of other icky personal issues.

Oh, and it’s also about longtime Ontario MPP Jim Wilson, who resigned as that province’s economic development minister and then left the party following sexual harassment allegations. And it’s about former Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jaimie Baillie, who left his job after allegations of inappropriate conduct. And … and … and.

So here’s the question: is our political system designed in a way that helps bring the wrong people to the top?

It’s only a theory, but think about it: we have for years known that it takes particular types of people to run for office. Some are reluctant stars, drafted into politics because they feel that they have something to give in the way of specialized skills and knowledge, even though they don’t relish being in the public eye.

This is not to say that all politicians show narcissistic traits — just that the traits that drive successful politicians to the top also dovetail neatly into a darker side.

Others, unfortunately, are clearly narcissists, people who not only are adept at self-promotion, but revel in the adulation that comes with it. They’re not slightest bit embarrassed about the trappings of power they accumulate — on the contrary, they wear it proudly, as if it were recognition they had always deserved. The higher they rise, the more pronounced that primacy of self seems to be. “Pick me — I’m right. I’m the best.”

Is it any wonder that such a worldview would also extend into their personal behaviour — and misbehaviour? Not really.

This is not to say that all politicians show narcissistic traits — just that the traits that drive successful politicians to the top also dovetail neatly into a darker side.

Many businesses in Canada — aware that the skills that propel some people to the top also occasionally constitute the pathology of sociopaths — now do psychological testing of people moving into senior management positions to make sure the skill set they’re promoting is actually made up of skills the employer wants.

We don’t do that with politicians.

The #MeToo movement is being effective at unmasking the improper behaviour of all sorts of high-ranking men. But often, those being outed in the political sphere are longtime politicians — meaning their sense of privilege is likely not new.

It’s not an apology or an excuse for their behaviour.

Far from it.

But if you keep a dog only for hunting, it’s hard to blame it for killing the neighbour’s chickens.

Perhaps we should be finding our leaders in a different way — or at least bearing in mind that the skill set that’s pushing them to the top can have other, untested-for and unacceptable side-effects.

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