Want leaders – look for competence and warmth


Few people in the UK remember Tony Blair with fondness, but my view is that in his first two terms was a great leader. When I think back on his Prime Ministerial career the first the thing that comes to mind is an interview he did after John Prescott, his Deputy Prime Minister punched a protestor (picture above). In that interview Blair looked a bit pained and contrite, but simply said “John will be John”. I could see he was upset, but he didn’t over react. Instead he showed a warmth and understanding for Prescott and stood firmly behind him.

These reactions can and have been explained away as clever politicking, and I’m sure there’s truth in that, but for me it shows why Blair, Britain’s youngest Prime Minister since 1812, was so successful. He was a great leader, exuding both warmth and competence. It’s unfortunate for him that the Iraq debacle chipped away heavily at both and his legacy isn’t what it might have been.

We need leaders in every walk of life, from politics to sport to business and beyond. Recognising and recruiting those leaders is a big part of our job as investors and founders. People who exude competence and warmth are strong candidates.

This CityAM article makes a similar point and goes on to discuss use and control of emotion. It’s a good read.

  • baldarab

    Great leaders can not only show warmth, empathy and inspiration. They also should take you to a good place. Blair clearly was able to inspire millions, and excelled at that part of leadership. But to ignore that he led those millions to a dark place with a completely unwarranted invasion on a foreign nation that resulted in deaths and displacement of over a million people is to ignore a very big part of what makes a great leader.

    This is as true in business as it is in politics. That Jeff Skilling was able to inspire thousands of employees in Enron was a great leadership skill. That he took them down a fraudulent route that caused enormous harm, not to mention abuse of an entire US state’s energy supplies, shows a massive failing in other aspects of leadership.

    So I agree with your conclusion – looking for a leader with competence and warmth is essential. But without a moral compass, these are the kinds of leaders that end up giving their companies and investors a bad name.