Valpeo Blog

On Liz Truss's resignation: gigantic challenges for political leaders in the 21st century

The shortest-serving prime minister in British history: that is how Liz Truss will go down in history, after she had to announce her resignation on Thursday, Oct. 20th.

Politics today has been distorted into a profession, where people have found a way to fulfill their social ambition. The best place to shape that ambition is as minister or prime minister, for the simple reason that you have much more impact there than in other places.

Today's tensions and dilemmas

Once someone has started in politics, there is only one way, and that is the way up. Ministers especially should not forget that they are representatives of the people even when they have reached position of high office. That creates an incredible tension because - when they can't stay in that role - they often risk losing any accrued status. This is a dilemma, making failure not an option, resulting in politicians hanging on to the bitter end. But the context today has become much more complex. Where politicians used to have to answer mainly to their constituents, today they have to take into account all the stakeholders and forces in society that will not fail to share their views through social and other media. For example, Liz Truss did not anticipate that the IMF and the Bank of England would oppose her budget plans. Thus, the United Kingdom has ended up in a financial crisis.

"For politicians, failure is not an option. That is why they hang on to the bitter end."

Politicians have to meet the daily realities and needs of their constituents and connect their own vision of society with a vision of the social role of government that is increasingly complex. Mistakes are no longer tolerated. Political developments have reached a point where it has become inappropriate for politicians to limit themselves to their own ideology because the electorate is too fragmented. Politicians must now be able to connect ideologies, and take positions and decisions in the interest of the entire society. The ecosystem takes precedence over their own value system. Those who fail to do so are driving a finite story. There are too many external forces that expose the one-sidedness of a particular strategic- or political choice. Politics today is all-encompassing and either leads finally to social progress for all or is limited to a particular philosophy or ideology, at the risk of being positioned as extreme. Creating that social connectedness requires other qualities.

Either you are capable of taking all facets of that complexity into account, or you may end up leaving your post after 45 days.

Personal hero vs. capable leader?

People's needs and motivations, macro-trends, geopolitical developments, social evolutions ... all this has to be taken into account, and makes it immensely complex. Being able to deal with that complexity does not come from being elected by a particular popular vote, or because some people regard you as the perfect successor.

It is high time for politicians to re-brand how they select their leaders.
But we, as voters, are equally guilty. Are we looking for the next hero capable of meeting our needs and drives, or are we looking for a leader capable of bringing about social progress?
Understanding the complexity orientation and leadership qualities of candidates have become essential criteria when running for office or nominating others as ordinary voters. Popularity, unfortunately, is not actually a criterion but is often relevant today to even be admitted as a candidate.

Fabiaan Van Vrekhem, president of Valpeo and Accord Group Belgium

Discover more about our ideas on leadership on our website.