CARE: Christian Action, Research and Education

For what you believe
Open menu Close menu

Character not Charisma - what makes a good leader?

Peter Ladd

Boris 2

What makes a good leader? Is it the ability to inspire loyalty in others? Is it all about getting results, regardless of how you get there? To be the one with authority?

Boris Johnson this week has achieved something no other Prime Minister in British history has ever managed; he has been found guilty of Contempt of Parliament by the Privileges Committee, resulting in (had he not jumped ship first, rather than face a by-election he plausibly might have lost) a 90-day suspension from the Commons, and now the withdrawal of his Parliamentary pass.

It is important to understand - amid cries of witch-hunts and kangaroo courts - what he has been found guilty of, and why the punishment is so long: he is not now being punished for attending parties (which is a police-matter, and for which he has already paid his fine), but for lying to the House of Commons, something which is of the utmost seriousness, give it is Parliament’s job to hold the Prime Minister to account.

Just a few years ago, Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary merely for accidentally misleading the House over the Windrush scandal; here, a Prime Minister has been found to have ‘personal knowledge’ of breaches of the rules, and the Committee (the majority of which is actually made up of Conservative members, not Labour ones, despite Johnson focusing his ire on Harriet Harman) has found it ‘highly unlikely’ that he believed his own stories, and ‘still less that he could continue to believe them to this day.’

Similarly, it is not just because he misled the House that the sentence was so steep: his misdemeanours also include:

  • deliberately misleading MPs on the Privileges Committee while they were investigating him

  • publicising the findings of the committee before they had been published

  • being complicit in a ‘campaign of abuse’ against the members of the committee

  • and doing all of the above as a PM/former PM

And yet there are still many who hang on his every word, who believe that Johnson is their political Messiah, an infallible and innocent victim of an establishment stitch-up. The Daily Express front-page headline today read: “The most spiteful stitch-up in history of politics”.

For it cannot be denied that Boris Johnson possesses - whatever one might think of him - a peculiar magnetism. As Jacob Rees-Mogg (or should that now be Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) said yesterday, ‘Boris dominates the news because he is still the biggest figure in British politics, the most charismatic, [and] the most well known.’

Johnson claims he is the man who ‘got Brexit done’, who has led the response of the free world in support of Ukraine, who rolled out a world-leading vaccine programme. Never mind that Brexit was done so badly that Rishi Sunak had to redo it, or that the vaccine programme was largely contracted out and wasn’t run by the government (although I will give him credit over Ukraine!).

He is a man of rare abilities: he possesses a unique gift for connecting with people who would never normally give the Tories a second thought, for convincing them that he really cares about them and their interests, a talent for appearing invincible, and indeed, a remarkable knack for constructing a narrative whereby his supporters do not believe that what has gone wrong is his own fault.

At CARE, we are not party-political; we do not support particular candidates or particular parties, but we seek to be a Christian voice encouraging what is good and challenging what is not, through the lens of God’s word, regardless of who is in focus.

So what actually makes a good leader? As Christians, we have a unique insight into this; for all the ink which has been spilled on leadership secrets and self-improvement books, we worship the God who is the best leader the world has even known.

Jesus Christ began with 12 followers and today has over 2 billion. He inspires loyalty, sacrifice and worship in us all. And he had a thing or two to say about leadership.

Boris Johnson is without doubt the most charismatic leader of his generation. But Jesus’ words are all about character, not charisma.

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus sets a new model for leadership; one not based around power and authority, but about laying them to one side. It is counter-cultural, for those in power often spend their time trying to accumulate more. But is a model which has left its mark; it is not for nothing that we now talk about ‘public service.’

And it is a model which could not be more in conflict with the bombast of Boris.

Boris Johnson’s childhood ambition was to be ‘world king’. Jesus was already king, but made himself a servant.

Boris Johnson’s political decisions (regardless of whether you agree with the causes he supported) have been designed to gain him power. Jesus did not ‘believe equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.’

Boris Johnson might be imbibed with Shakespeare eloquence and a Churchillian bulldog spirit, he might possess such a magnetic personality than you cannot take your eyes off him, but in Jesus’ eyes, good leadership is not based around how charismatic someone is, but is based around their character, and in particular their service and self-sacrifice.

It is something Jesus himself embodied: he did not demand his followers bow before him, but called them his friends and washed their feet. He did not enter Jerusalem in power on a war-horse, but “gentle and riding on a donkey”.

Boris Johnson seems to think that he has been unjustly tried in the court of the Sanhedrin, that he is being crucified as an innocent sacrificial lamb, and that the solution is to lash out at the unfairness and injustice...

“This report is a charade…This is a dreadful day for MPs and for democracy…For the Privileges Committee to use its prerogatives in this anti-democratic way, to bring about what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination – that is beneath contempt.”

Once upon a time there was a leader who really was unjustly tried. But he did not even open his mouth. He did not try and cling to his power but willingly laid it - and his life - aside as he submitted to death on a cross. And three days later, God vindicated him by raising him from the dead; for the way to glory is through suffering and sacrifice, not self-aggrandisement.

Leadership is not about charisma.

Leadership - as Jesus himself proved - is about character.

Receive news from CARE each week

By signing up stay in touch you agree to receive emails from CARE. You can change your mailing preferences at any time either by getting in touch with CARE, or through the links on any of our emails.