Leadership and leadership skills — this secondary assembly looks at what qualities are important in a leader

In this assembly Brian Radcliffe invites students to consider the characteristics we might look for when appointing someone to a leadership position, whether of the nation, the team or the class. The starting point is the debate surrounding Gordon Brown’s leadership of the Labour Party and by implication the country.


Six readers


[Leader approaches the audience, says ‘Follow me’ to a student and takes that student on a meandering walk around the assembly venue. During the walk the Leader says ‘Follow me’ to other students, who join the line until there is a procession snaking around the venue. Leader eventually stops and turns to the followers.]

Leader: Why are you following me?

[Take responses from students, probably variations on: ’Because you told us to’.]

But what is so special about me? Why should you do what I say?

[Take responses from students, identifying issues of authority, seniority, consequences if they didn’t etc. Thank the students who return to their seats.]


There are many people this today who are wondering who they should follow: there are Labour MPs debating Gordon Brown’s position as Prime Minister; there’s a number of football clubs that have no manager; there are sports teams that need a captain for sports day − the list is endless. In today’s assembly we’re going to consider: what qualities should we look for in a leader? Here are a few suggestions.

Reader 1: I want a leader with many years’ relevant experience − someone who has a proven track record. I will follow someone who’s already demonstrated that they’re up to the job, someone with a list of successes in similar situations.

Reader 2: I want a leader with charisma and a magnetic personality − someone who attracts others to themselves. When I listen to him or her I want to be inspired; to have passion instilled in me; to feel I’m responding to a rallying call.

Reader 3: I want a leader who is a good communicator. In this media-driven society it’s important to be able to give a clear message in a variety of different ways: the sound bite, the interview, the speech to the crowd and the newspaper article. It’s important that we all understand what we’re working towards, without confusion.

Reader 4: I’ll always follow the leader who’s popular, whatever their views. You can always trust the majority to come up with the right choice. What’s the point of following a leader who only has a few supporters? They’ll never be able to get anything done.

Reader 5: For me the most important thing is that the leader has the necessary skills and knowledge to do the job. What training have they undergone? What are their qualifications? It’s no good following someone who can’t come up with the answers, who always has to refer to someone more knowledgeable.

Reader 6: Above all else, a leader must be someone I can trust. When they speak I need to know that they’re speaking the truth. I don’t want them to lie or deviously deny things they’ve said or done by applying spin. What’s important are personal honour and integrity, especially in times of scandal like these.

Leader: I’ve heard all of these thoughts expressed over the past few weeks as we’ve experienced a number of political crises. Gordon Brown has been accused of failure in every one of these areas by some critic or another. People naturally have the highest expectations of those who have been given the responsibility and privilege of leadership, and mistakes are not easily forgiven – but it is impossible for a leader to keep everyone happy all of the time. So how can we ever choose the right candidate for everyone? I’d like to make two suggestions of considerations that should be applied when looking for any leader, whether they that position is Prime Minister, the headteacher of a school, a Premiership football manager, or your sports team captain.

First, don’t expect perfection in a leader. The correct term for that would be ‘omnicompetence’, which means someone who is able to handle any situation. There is no-one who could completely satisfy all the criteria expressed by our six readers. Leaders are, hopefully, strong in certain areas of expertise, but they are also likely to be a little weaker in others. Gordon Brown is clearly skilled and experienced as an economist but has a less charismatic personality than, for instance, Barak Obama. That’s why it’s important for any leader to build a good team around them; a group of people who complement his or her strengths and weaknesses. So when we choose a leader, it’s useful to look at those people who are close allies of the candidates; the people who are likely to make up his or her team. This applies as strongly to choosing a form representative as it does to choosing a prime minister.

Second, choose the leader who is best suited to the prevailing circumstances at this point in our history. It’s generally recognised that there are two key issues on the British political agenda at this point in time. One is to create a system of pay and expenses for MPs that is fair, attractive to the most able people and that can be strictly enforced, the other is the global financial crisis and the effect it has on the UK economy. The leader we require as Prime Minister is a man or woman whose abilities and personality are suited to tackling these current issues. A good example to compare to is Sir Winston Churchill – even though he is generally recognised as one of the great British leaders for what he did during World War 2, when peacetime came the British people felt a different style of leadership was required so he was voted out. Similarly, one football manager may be brilliant at rescuing a club from the threat of relegation, but will never be able to inspire a team to win the Champions League, and the form representative that helped to bond the class together during Years 7 and 8 may not be the best person to give encouragement and inspiration during the stresses of the exam years, 10 and 11. A good leader should suit the demands a job presents at that particular point in time.


Most of us are followers. A few of us will face the challenges of leadership. For leaders it’s useful to do some personal analysis of our strengths and weaknesses – we may be able to address and improve on some areas of our ability or personality. For followers it’s useful to look at all the candidates and to consider which, on balance, may be the most suitable one, with the most complementary support team, for this point in time.

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

If I’m called to followMay I give some thought to the general direction I wish to goMay I give some thought to every candidateWhen my decision is made may I give wholehearted support.If I’m called to leadMay I be realistic about my strengths and weaknessesMay I listen to the views of those who choose me

May I recognise when my job has been done and withdraw gracefully.


This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Brian Radcliffe