Is leadership behaviour the clue to party political success?

Author: James Finn, senior consutant

Part 1 / 2

As the party leaders prepare for the second in a series of three public debates in the run up to the General Election, Crelos Senior Consultant, James Finn, provides commentary on how the three performed at the first debate on 15th April. James conducted a behavioural analysis of the party leaders against the Schroder framework.

The Schroder framework is a behavioural framework based on 40 years of research conducted by Harry Schroder, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Princeton University (Managerial Competence, The Key to Excellence by Harold M. Schroder, 1989). The Schroder framework has been proved to effectively predict high performance when used by individuals and teams in the increasingly fast paced and complex world of business. Crelos uses the Schroder framework as a key behavioural and organisational change tool.

Below, we look at how the party leaders effectively or perhaps ineffectively used these behaviours. So, can it predict how the party leaders will perform and if they can sway the public’s vote?

Inspiring behaviours (communicating effectively, influencing others and building confidence in the future)
All three party leaders demonstrated classic elements of strong Communication. They consistently used such techniques as personal anecdotes, analogies and “rule of three” (a presentation techniques based on evidence that people remember only three things at any one time) to get their messages across. If anything, the personal anecdotes were somewhat overused and formulaic in trying to capture the “man of the people”. Where a difference could be seen, and heard, was in Nick Clegg's increasingly emotive tones and gestures which expressed his frustration with “those two” and the way things currently stand. This contrasted significantly with the controlled approach of Gordon Brown and David Cameron and so felt a more realistic and genuine response.

In terms of Influencing the audience, all three leaders focused primarily on pushing party policy and on the perceived success or failure of past government initiatives. They pushed for their own ideas and ridiculed those of the other parties. Having taken into account that individuals in the audience were asking the questions, more attention to addressing the actual benefits of their proposals and specifically for the individual asking the question, would have had a more powerful impact. However, the consistent negativity towards the ideas of the other leaders can be described as “negative” influencing, i.e. the promotion of a “win at all costs” by destroying the others’ views rather than selling ones own to gain buy in.

In respect of Building Confidence in them as individuals, their parties and their agenda, all three men effectively gave repeated statements of decisiveness and strength of belief. It was mainly Clegg however, who built optimism and spoke with real enthusiasm about his ideas and the future. Ignoring the content, Clegg's enthusiasm and emotional communications stood out amongst the others and may have contributed to some of his appeal.

Thinking behaviours (seeking information, creating solutions and considering alternatives)
Clegg again won this. All three party leaders quoted multiple sources of Information so this would be called a tie. However, in terms of ability to explain how policy Solutions fitted together into an overarching strategy and analysing the multiple Alternatives, it was Clegg who continually tried to link themes and consider options. In contrast, Brown and Cameron tended to present ideas as lists of policies and initiatives; this is a more tactical approach to the specific issues. They also tended to reject each others’ views of the problem, suggesting that only a single party perspective of the world was worth considering. All three leaders would have benefited from greater demonstration of the ability to consider alternatives. This would have been seen through initially recognising all different perspectives and criteria for interpreting the issues and then defining and framing the best solutions.

People behaviours (building rapport, team-working, developing others)
All three leaders specifically sought to recognise the questioners regularly by the use of their names. The rules of the debate meant the politicians could not engage the audience/questioner in any conversation. As a result, examples of Rapport building, openness and trust were less evident. Clegg did however cleverly circumnavigate the rules by asking the questioner to give a nod if he was in agreement; this was an apparent bid to build rapport. Between the politicians, again Clegg appeared the most attentive of what the others were saying. And it was Clegg who was the closest to actually listening. Generally, rapport and empathy were demonstrated through personal anecdotes and not actively performed on the night. There were some attempts made to push assumptions that others shared in their viewpoint, however, no actual attempt to understand was made. Each of the three could improve their performance by recognising the viewpoints of others and clarifying understanding rather than attacking any sense of difference. While this was a high profile debate, listening and recognising others appeared core to engaging with the general public, but not in terms of cross-party behaviour.

The behaviours of Team-working and Developing Others were not evidenced during the debate, primarily as there was little or no opportunity to demonstrate them.

Performance behaviours (taking action, setting and monitoring targets)
Brown edged this one with a real focus on Targets. These were used to demonstrate focus on Action and to measure success of policy. Use of these behaviours at a higher level for all of the leaders would have involved the setting of measures to steer policy rather than being used as an absolute confirmation of success or failure.

Based on the evidence discussed above, Nick Clegg came out on top of this first debate. Greater thinking agility, along with more effort to build rapport, and the ability to show greater emotion (emotional intelligence) helped him to navigate the dynamics of the debate, successfully taking the public along with him. The debate may have played into the hands of Clegg, as he had greater freedom to express the need for change. On the other hand however, taking the adversarial stance of matching policy for policy, which is what Cameron and Brown did, was more rigid in thought and style; this appeared rather formulaic and scripted

If we were being asked to assess them for a leadership role in a large organisation, at this time Clegg would have the job. However, there are two more “interview rounds”, so if Brown and Cameron can up their game, there is still everything to play for.

Read our commentary of the second and third debates.

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James Finn, Senior Consultant

'Why does change so often fail? Because people nod their heads without actually buying-in emotionally. Because you have to understand individual differences before you set about getting their buy-in. We have a highly detailed map of the emotional route through change. With it we can make the process work.'

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