See party leader for issues and roles that are specific to Canadian political party leadership.

feminine leadership

In the foreword to __Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2005), David Gergen states that leadership — regardless of gender — can be viewed as a series of concentric circles. As reported by Beth Stoner:
  • The innermost circle represents the individual leader — you. Leadership must start from within, knowing yourself, achieving self-mastery and developing your own leadership voice.
  • The second larger circle — containing the first — represents the organization of which you are a part. Once you have learned self-leadership, you are able to more effectively lead a larger group.
  • The third circle, encompassing both the first and second circles, represents the larger world in which an organization operates — the multitude of other organizations with which yours must cooperate, coordinate and partner.
  • Beth Stoner adds a "fourth circle — perhaps in the design of a web — that overlays them all. This web represents all those who serve as leadership touchstones for us — those women and men who inspire, teach, challenge, serve as role models and generously share their expertise and experience with us either personally or indirectly through their work."

promoting those who exceed them

Definitions of leadership tend to depend wholly on the mirror definition of stupidity: what leadership must overcome. In all theories of leadership, to focus and to filter, that is, to achieve cognitive discipline, is central. The leader must master himself, before he can command the respect of any other leader, certainly those who might become a successor in an expanded and larger organization at a later time.

Leaders must be evaluated for the overall achievements of their entire team. Accordingly the habit of promoting and encouraging those who exceed them remains the primary leadership skill. A truly great leader will always be judged by the quality of their proteges, apprentices and successors. Magnificent leaders can fail at this, and ultimately be considered to have failed, e.g. Marcus Aurelius, Brian Mulroney.

Lord Nelson's definition was more parental: to "encourage attempts, offer advice, give praise"

Historian Margaret MacMillan emphasizes that results remain more important than characteristics of a leader: the words leader and legacy have the same root. She evaluates Richard Nixon kindly in this regard, as has Ralph Nader also. She characterized Paul Martin as having been a more effective Finance Minister of Canada than Prime Minister of Canada.

vision, change, focus, risk

Aside from the requirement to actually lead others, most definitions of leadership include vision, capacity to cope with change, to filter out distractions and focus on the unique current opoprtunities, take risks to exploit those opportunities, and take full responsibility for results or failure of results.

Peter Blaikie, former president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, emphasizes that political leadership in Canada requires also an ability to grow a consensus, achieve compromise, and other political virtues. He emphasizes also the need to master Foreign Policy, and the fit between the mass media of the time and the leader's own personal characteristics, e.g. radio rewards orators, while TV debates emphasize calm. Margaret MacMillan notes that Winston Churchill would be unlikely to achieve office in today's image-driven politics.

cognitive abilities

While it seems to be a tertiary concern, persons of exceptional physical capacities and cognitive disciplines or exceptional capacities are also often seen as more fit for leadership: Tommy Douglas had a photographic memory, Pierre Trudeau kept fit with yoga and memorized a lot of literature.


Projecting a sense of authenticity and sincere belief in one's convictions is one attribute Douglas, Trudeau, and probably also Stephen Harper, had in common. A paradox arises from the fact that complex beliefs are harder to hold to, and require curiosity to keep evolving. Blaikie notes George W. Bush as a person who lacks curiosity.


The Zen of leadership is often explored, e.g. in the way we manage leaders and identify their stupidity. The Pointy Haired Boss is the icon of stupidity remaining in leadership, but only in the limited context of management. management deals with complexity to create stability and typically organize routine matters.

The PHB can often actually be quite Zen, but only because he is leaving a clear leadership void, and identifying that wherever he is, the problem is, almost by definition. His advice being the opposite of the solution, he discredits word as a solution.

school of fish

That is leadership - it is leadership whether the leading is bad or good. It is the subordinate leaders who must decide that, as a group, like a fish school: strongly resist, or strongly move in the same direction, but whichever of the twelve levers is being affected, that is the one that they must open a debate which way to push.

If one fish pushes so strongly they are cut out from the school, we do not call that one a leader. We call that one a loner or outlier. It is not the loner who decides whether they lead - it is the followers. Thus the leader must follow the herd as a whole, e.g. trollherd, if s/he expects it to follow him/her where s/he goes. To nudge fairly is the manager's function, to nudge strongly is the leader's. With a manager in the middle, not a leader, the pack has no leader at all - the manager averages the nudgings and all is directionless.


Leadership is lonely, for a reason. The PHB is lonely.

But it is not management. Certainly not if anyone listens. It is the decision to not listen any more, to pursue actual priorities, that actually marks out leaders from the pack of fools.


The definition of failure may be: leaders trying to manage.

The definition of evil may be: managers trying to lead.


A common insistence is that those who do not want to lead, are the only ones qualified to lead. If the leadership and management skills are divergent, and evil consists of managers trying to lead, then good and success can thus come only from a democratic structuring with no single command hierarchy.

All developed nations respecting human rights have achieved such structures recently, typically with an executive/legislative/judiciary balance of powers.

global leaders

The emergence of global leaders, e.g. Back Bono, Jane Goodall, depends on a like recognition of the constraints on a global society - it is the biosphere, ultimately, that nudges all of us to sustainability. If we insist on being managed, there will be evil responses. If we will be led, only, we will fail. It is balance of managers and leaders with limits, that will win out.


MacMillan and Blaikie were guests on an episode of Cross-Country Checkup on CBC Radio, 2006-01-29