A Leadership Test for Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg

Last Updated Apr 7, 2010 9:36 AM EDT

Here are five questions which the Prime Ministerial candidates must answer to pass the leadership interview. They probe the five qualities which followers most want from their leaders, based on the original research I did for How to Lead.

I have assigned each leader stars out of five for each question. Gordon Brown suffers because he has a track record; David Cameron and Nick Clegg suffer because they do not have a track record. I was lucky enough to interview Clegg for an afternoon, so he benefits or suffers accordingly.

As you test Brown, Cameron and Clegg with these questions, you might also test your boss on the same questions, and even test yourself.

Do you have a vision? Simply: "this is where we are, this is where we are going and this is how we will get there."

Brown: ** (out of five): He has talked greatly about vision, but after two years in office I still do not know what the vision is beyond "trust me with the economy".

Cameron ** Clearly wants to detoxify the Tory brand and has made a start, although we will see how far voters actually believe his vision.

Clegg ** His vision is invisible in the media, although his staff were very clear about where he would stand when confronted with unexpected issues.

Can you motivate people?
Brown * Apparently motivates people by throwing things and shouting at them. Not quite best practice for most managers today.

Cameron. ** Not clear that he is carrying the rest of the party with him: they seem be tagging along to get power while appearing to disagree with much of what he has to say on climate change and tax.

Clegg ** Again, suffers from media invisibility: you can't motivate people if no one knows you exist. But in private, he is outstanding. Not sure that counts though.

Are you good in a crisis?
Brown *** Brown claims to have saved the world, which is overblown. But having led us into recession from 11 Downing Street, he has led us out again from number 10. Would your boss approve if you only solved crises you had created?

Cameron ** Largely untested, but has shown some bottle in disciplining some of the dinosaurs in his party who got uppity about expenses and policy matters.

Clegg *** Completely untested, which is where most leaders start out. But like any good leader he has a good team: Vince Cable might have scored five stars alone, Clegg gets one star alone but gets three for the team effort.

Are you decisive?
Brown: * Do not forget the election that never was two years ago. Brown has a reputation for never being around when there is bad news. He will only apologise for things he has not done (like slavery).

Cameron ** No real evidence to give him a high score or a low score, so he gets a slightly mean two stars.

Clegg: ** see Cameron.

Are you honest and trustworthy?
Brown. * Has been caught making too many statistical errors recently and has the misfortune that after thirteen years in power all those half promises tend to be remembered and count against you (we will have a vote on Lisbon; we will not introduce tuition fees, we will not raise income tax). One star is the likely fate of all incumbents in this instance, eventually.

Cameron ** Has failed to own up to how the budget will be managed, where the pain will be. And has had his dodgy moments with statistics. But at least he has said that there will be pain.

Clegg *** Has not been caught with dodgy statistics ( one of the benefits of being ignored, perhaps) and has tried to be slightly clearer about where the pain will be.

Final scores out of 25:
Brown 8; Cameron 10; Clegg: 12
The obvious conclusion is that we need to look for another leader, but I am not sure we will find them within the Scottish Nationalists, Greens , UKIP or BNP.

Equally, you can conclude that obscurity helps: the more you put a leader under the microscope, the more their flaws become apparent. What would happen if you and your boss were subject to the same relentless scrutiny by media year after year? Few of us would come out looking good.

(Pic: Nick Clegg, World Economic Forum cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership