Lisbon: Humility is the key to a Yes victory…

It’s hard to read how the Lisbon campaign is going. We’ve noted a general lack of confidence amongst the political class and a sense that the politicians are leaving it what’s roughly tagged as ‘civil society’, which more often reads as ‘celebrities’. And in the case of some civil society organisations, like the IFA, it’s clear that a significant number of their members may not be heeding their leadership. Below the fold, Michael McLoughlin makes an eloquent plea for a different kind of leadership. One that is big enough to engage the citizenry in conversation rather than just handing them down parcels for them to sign for… That, it seems to me, is the answer to a much larger question that just one referendum. By Michael McLoughlin

Politics and politicians are in the doghouse, regardless of where one is on the political spectrum many believe rightly or wrongly that our economic mess and much more besides is the fault of those who govern us.

I’ve knocked a fair few doors in my time and still would say there is enough difference between the parties to warrant public faith in our democratic system. I can also say that human nature being what it is, hubris and ego inevitably play their role in our political system. In a general or local election this is fine, as personality is part of the package however in the referendum these inevitably lead to a fall. One look at the candidate posters in Lisbon 1 (guilty I’m afraid) tells the entire story.

Politics is about leadership and while individuals are hugely important to this in a referendum campaign other things are going on. George Bush Snr. was bemused by the “vision thing” and this is important. Most of all though we need to realise that single Yes or No Votes on sensitive and fairly detailed issues are as much about emotion as reason and logic (although I hope we can have some more of these).

Insecurity and fear can lead to results contrary to what the bulk of politicians argue for but we quickly see how people revert to type at for example recent local elections.

The conventional wisdom then is we have to have a massive retreat form politics in our referenda campaigns. Now civic society groups are fine and this website is in its own way a departure from traditional politics, although you’ll pardon my doing a double take at Yes campaigners suggesting red and yellow cards in relation to the Lisbon debate!

However what the Yes side needs is not less politicians but ones who know what they are doing.

If we are conducting an emotional style debate politicians need to show a level of emotional intelligence. There is leadership in Irish politics but it is often in relation to local issues and usually anti-establishment. Emotional intelligence in political discourse will lead to a different approach, less yah, booh, sucks and more listening.

Jim Collins developed the idea of the Level 5 Leader, it’s worth looking at how he describes the elite leaders in business who get results;

“They routinely credit others, external factors and good luck for their companies success. But when results are poor they blame themselves. They also act quietly, calmly and determinedly – relying on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate”

In summary they show a combination of will and humility. There it is, the H word, so sadly lacking in many of our leaders. Politicians have many of the other traits of great leadership but many lack this one. They see vision, drive and determination as the characteristics needed and Collins sees much of this in the level 3 and 4 leaders, but that added H is where top performance comes to the fore.

Notably those with large egos cannot make the move form level 4 to level 5 leadership!

Our leaders have a reasonable head start in this area in Lisbon 2. They have shown, mainly by necessity rather than design, that they could ask people for their views and then respond with some meaningful results (in terms of the guarantees and the Commissioner issue). A good start in the emotional intelligence stakes! More of this is needed. This is why debating the idea of whether guarantees are legally binding is a bit pointless as they are as much emotional as legal instruments.

So come on Yes politicians a little bit more humility and listening will go a long way to the right result on October 2nd.

Michael Mc Loughlin is editor of and a former member of Irelands National Forum on Europe.