They appear on Channel 4 News or Newsnight most evenings and every morning on the Today programme. They are often articulate, confident, even charming, as they explain what they will do next as senior broadcasters, politicians or policemen. What they lack, almost without exception, is the most important quality of all: the style of a leader.
Who, after all, wants to be seen as an authority figure these days? Even those in charge prefer to be seen as approachable, as not that different in many ways from their junior colleagues – first among equals. Leadership has never been less fashionable. It has become associated with starchy authoritarianism and confused by class prejudice. For a politician, today's greatest fear is to be thought distant and out of touch. Ordinariness; the capacity to be as at home chatting on daytime TV as attending an EU summit, is a positive virtue.
None of that matters particularly when all is going well. It is when things fall apart that leadership comes into its own. The member of the public who took the BBC's acting Director-General, Tim Davie, to task for not wearing a tie on the grounds that he would not be taken seriously was making a wider point: Davie looked like a man without authority. Leadership involves a degree of selflessness, recognising that the job is bigger than the individual. It accepts that popularity is less important than being strong and aggressive in defence of an organisation under pressure.
Perhaps a new officer class is required: one that has nothing to do with social standing or being born into privilege. Public schools have been much mocked for instilling in their pupils the idea that they are the leaders of the future, but that message, for certain pupils, students and apprentices, is needed more than ever today.
Most of us prefer to belong to the other ranks, but it is important that those making the truly important decisions are officers, slightly removed from the rest of us, set apart by a solid, somewhat old-fashioned sense of duty.Reuse content