A new officer class is required: one that has nothing to do with social class

Ties are going out of fashion and, with them, leadership itself, but it is when things are falling apart that we need authority most

Share

They appear on Channel 4 News or Newsnight most evenings, and every morning one of two of them will speak 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 will 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, confused by class prejudice, and sometimes sullied by the general hopelessness of those who are currently in charge. 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 are falling 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.

Indeed, the reason why his predecessor, the luckless George Entwistle, failed was that he was too obviously a team member, a naturally tieless type, bright, industrious and able, but not a leader.

The capacity to inspire confidence and gain respect has nothing to do with bullying: people like Lord Black or Lord Sugar, who are motivated by personal ambition, are followed out of fear rather than respect. Leadership involves a degree of selflessness, an ability to recognise 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 – it is far easier to be part of the querulous majority who are content to simply follow and complain – 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.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition