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Charisma is key: Hiring lessons from the Tory leadership battle

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Whatever your views, it’s clear that we’re at a crossroads when it comes to politics in Britain. By the end of this month, we’ll have a new Prime Minister whose first job will be to tackle Brexit – navigating the country through discussions with the EU and, closer to home, Parliament in order to find the holy grail: a conclusive answer to how we move forwards after cutting ties with the world’s largest trading bloc.


For anyone with an interest in politics, the current Tory leadership battle makes for fascinating reading and it’s clear that the final two candidates for Prime Minister – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – are very contrasting personalities. We wouldn’t want to guess at the end result, but from a recruitment perspective, these differences make for an interesting debate.


If there’s one word that’s used to describe leadership contender Boris Johnson time and time again, it’s charisma. The former foreign secretary has always been seen as charismatic, by friends and enemies alike. For those who admire his leadership qualities, it is charisma which will enable Boris to win future Brexit negotiations, by charming those who hold different political opinions and persuasions. Those who dislike him, however, see him as a loose cannon.


The Cambridge Dictionary describes charisma as ‘the ability to attract the attention and admiration of others, and to be seen as a leader’. It’s something that we as consultants recruiting for specialists in public affairs look for when we meet candidates. Although working in this sector is somewhat different from following a career as a politician, of course, politicians and those in public affairs often work within the same spheres and require many of the same leadership skills.


There’s no question that charisma helps. Whether you’re working as a political advisor, researcher or stakeholder relations manager, you’ll need to be able to engage and negotiate with many different parties throughout your career. To rise to the top of your field, you’ll need confidence in your abilities, in order to inspire others to follow your lead and take action. But, as we’ve observed time and time again, there are many different types of leaders – and as you know, it takes more than charisma to succeed in a sector that requires strategic thinking, attention to detail and the abilities to make the most of opportunities by thinking creatively and spontaneously.


It’s here that we touch on a question at the heart of the Tory leadership debate: is it more important to have a charismatic leader or someone who can deliver? Is it possible to do both? And is there such a thing as too much charisma? A study carried out by American psychologists suggests so. The research, testing the correlation between these traits and effective leadership found it was better to score moderately in this area – those who were perceived as being very low or very high in charisma were seen by others as less competent. 


Those who scored highly for charisma were seen as strategic, rather than operational thinkers. These are the people who focus on the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ within organisations, who are great at big picture thinking and driving long-term visions. In contrast, operational thinkers are those who have their feet firmly grounded in the present. These are the people who keep the ship afloat by focusing on immediate tasks and challenges.

Political editor Laura Kuenssberg writes on the BBC that, of those who have worked with Boris, some say he ‘is simply not interested in minutiae’. From our perspective, when we look for bright, talented candidates within public affairs, it’s always important to get a balance. Whichever candidate wins the Tory leadership debate, we’ll be watching with interest as the decisions they make will, of course, impact the clients we work with and the positions we hire for in the future. 


Whether you’re searching for public affairs experts or you’re ready to make your mark on the industry, our consultants are ready to help you.

Get in touch with our policy team today on or by email at info@murraymcintosh.com for a personal consultation.

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