Wanted: Party Leader with a listicle of qualities

  • National Newswatch

As an exercise, I tried to draft a job description for a federal party leader. That is one daunting job.A political party has two main jobs in our democracy: to recruit, train and elect candidates, and to develop and promote a nationally-balanced, coherent platform for government according to that party's political philosophy and membership direction.Finding someone to lead all that is a tall order, not least because so much of the actual work goes on below the surface, or out of the public eye.New Democrats have tended to focus on policy items, but starting next week they'll be electing a party leader, not a policy book. What does being leader entail, and who is qualified to do the job? Evidently it's more than just performing well in Question Period in the House, or being a good speaker, or taking the right position on the political spectrum.If they had their druthers, New Democrats would just want Jack back. Over his ten years at the helm of Canada's social democratic party, Jack Layton came to personify what NDPers most admired in a leader.I canvassed a cross-section of party activists and supporters, and came up with the following list of what would be required to replace him.JOB REQUIREMENTS* candidate for prime minister * leads the party's government or opposition to the government * vision for the future * able legislator * caucus management * able to hold together and expand the party's geographic and demographic electoral coalition of voters * party organization * candidate recruitment * member recruitment and engagement * activist recruitment * chief listener * outreach lead * policy lead * chief strategist * chief communicator * fundraiser- and organizer-in-chief * other duties as may be requiredAlthough there is no one career path to federal party leader, in general it requires this kind of experience:EXPERIENCE* executive-track experience in legislative context, public sphere, or other private-, public- or volunteer-sector organization * leadership role in activism, community organization * record of accomplishment * media training and significant experience interacting with journalistsAnd in particular it demands a lot of transferable skills, such as:SKILLS* build and energize a team * take a point of view * take the long view * persuasion * good advocate * good explainer * good story-teller * public speaking off the cuff * TV clippable * media-savvy * social media-savvy * extraordinary personal, professional and political judgement * good news judgement * superb debater * effective consulter * excellent diplomat * excellent negotiator * excellent crisis manager * acceptably bilingual and bicultural (could they appear on Tout Le Monde En Parle seems to be the standard) * nuanced understanding of Canadian history and culture * strong understanding of world history, politics and diplomacy * strong knowledge of government policy and processes, or the capacity to learn it quickly * able to learn and comprehend the history, membership and political culture of the party * willing to put an expert team in place and allow that team to do its job * willingness to put in long hours, and do extensive travelA successful federal party leader should be expected to have most or all of these qualities:QUALITIES* sense of self * sense of humour * thick skin * extrovert * competitive, when required * collaborative, when required * boundless energy * boundless optimism * patience of Job * able to say No * flexibility * ability to focus * ability to prioritize * ability to multitask * ability to delegate with authority and accountability * ability to inspire * ability to read a room * intelligence * emotional intelligence * good listener * likes people * liked by people * good reader of people * able to recognize talent * comfortable in new settings and around diverse groups, including those who don't speak their language * able to ask people to do things * able to ask people for money * able to keep a secret * able to disagree agreeably * constant learner; open to different points of view * intangibles: charisma, royal jelly, camera-ready, personal style, performance abilityThe successful candidate will be accountable to pretty well everyone:REPORTS* to the people of Canada * to the party's governance structures and its members * to the party caucus * to the House of Commons through the Speaker * formal performance review by the Canadian electorate and then the party membership every four years or sooner * regular performance reviews by the nation's leading columnists and pollsters, and by citizens on every social media platform and in every Tim Horton's dailyThen I asked a group of NDPers to look at the job description and add anything they thought was missing from their perspective. Here's what they added:USEFUL EXPERIENCE PARTICULARLY IN THE NDP SETTING* able to apply a gender and equity lens * able to accept cultural diversity, distinguish appropriation, provide and ensure personal and professional safety, not compromise family nor family values at the expense of progress, shake every hand, take the extra moment to reflect and individualize every human interaction, expand Canada's progressiveness across the globe... ? * zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence * knowledge of Indigenous history and Indigenous political landscape. Intersectional feminist lens. * must recognize that "friend" is not the lead qualification for any staff role * must recognize that no question period zinger ever elected a Prime Minister, and that the daily activities of the house are scarcely relevant to most CanadiansOn Sunday afternoon in Hamilton, the four finalists in the party's federal leadership endurance test will address members in a "Showcase" of floor demonstrations, endorsements, and major speeches. NDP members have already started to complete and return their mail-in preferential ballots, while others will wait until after the showcase speeches to make up their minds, and then vote in a series of preferential ballots online.May the best candidate win. Now we have a template for rating them.Alice Funke is the publisher of the cobwebsite PunditsGuide.ca, which she'll be slowly getting back into gear ahead of the next federal election, after a couple-year sabbatical.