What Does Britain Want In A Political Leader?

The insightful results from the recent BritainThinks survey is worth looking at from a slightly different lens.

It’s telling that the top three attributes voters looked for from their political leaders are integrity, authenticity and empathy, with the top attribute from their previous survey, communication, dropping down the order.


In our experience, integrity, authenticity and empathy plus communication, when pulled together equal ‘engagement’.

Barack Obama, John F Kennedy and Nelson Mandela are past masters of engagement.

The reason why we are drawn towards them in the first place is that they can deliver their message well, but far more importantly they know how to reach out and ‘touch’ their audience.

On occasion, this can be misconstrued as presentation or showmanship. It is the added special ingredients of authenticity and integrity that transform straightforward communication into engagement.

Two-Horse Race

What is also quite telling is that politics, especially here in the UK, has always been a two-horse race, a zero-sum game. This means that when one of the key candidate’s stumbles or falls, their key rival will get an instant uplift, even if they are doing nothing remarkable.

To put it in plain terms, it was Theresa May’s implosion straight after she called the snap election that propelled Jeremy Corbyn into the positive spotlight.

The more May tripped up, the ever more acceptable Corbyn became.  He could afford to stick to his guns, whilst her continuous clangers and gaffes made him seem (for the first time to many) a viable alternative.

Second Rate

If we stand a little bit further back from the intensity of this UK battle, and looked to former President Obama, who was seen to be authentic with integrity and empathy allied with a real sparkling ability to communicate, both Corbyn and May look a little second rate.

The real trick today for our major politicians is to be able to engage both with their immediate audience and the wider public. The power of social media coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones, means there is no hiding place anymore. Anything that is said in any public forum is soon uploaded or passed to the media.

Always On

There is no ‘off season’ anymore and politicians have to be ‘always on’.

For the natural communicators, like Obama, we can look back at his two terms as President and whilst he was nowhere near perfect, he had the ability to make himself clear and positively connect with his audiences.

Whereas as for both Corbyn and May, neither are natural slick communicators or appear to have the ability to adapt their message for different audiences without losing any of their authenticity or integrity.

As the late Maya Angelou reminds us “not everyone will remember exactly what you said, but everybody will remember how you made them feel”.

Listen to the podcast that inspired this article.

What next?