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A leader worth following

Features | Published:

Former deputy John Langlois shares his thoughts on the attributes to look out for when choosing candidates in the coming election

THE task of choosing 38 deputies from a list of 119 to represent us in the States of Guernsey for the next four years or so is not a simple task.

I find it a challenge, even though I served for 24 years in the States between 1980 and 2004. In that quarter of a century I learnt a fair amount of what was expected of me as a States member and the mistakes I wish I had avoided. Here are my thoughts as I get down to considering whom to vote for at this election.

When I was first elected as a deputy for St Peter Port in 1980 I was quite naive. It took me time to learn how a complex organisation like the States worked. It was like a business with the largest staff and largest budget of any entity in the island. I had to learn to understand what I was doing. I was fortunate that there were experienced States members who had been in the States for many years who acted as my mentors to teach and guide me. They pointed out to me when I was barking up the wrong tree and when I was making a fool of myself. I made many mistakes in my first five years, fortunately before I held senior positions. My mentors had the qualities needed to be capable leaders in the island.

There is one leader outside Guernsey I have always admired. Before States members enter the House they have to take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. Whenever I took that oath it always reminded me that she was an example for me to follow, reigning as a servant of the people, not lording it over them. Consequently I sought to be a servant of the island, which really is what deputies are, or at least should be.

Many writers from around the world have written about the Queen’s leadership qualities, from which political and business leaders can also learn a thing or two and which differentiate her from other leaders. One commentator summarised her leadership qualities like this in an article in August 2019:

‘1. Vision. Vision and a clear purpose are what makes a strong leader. On her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth shared her vision on radio when she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and service of our great [Commonwealth] family to which we all belong.” Not only did she share her vision, but she also presented it in a way that even a common man could understand.

‘2. Leading by example. Instead of passing orders from behind a desk as most business leaders do, Queen Elizabeth believes in leading by example. She exemplifies servant-leadership, a concept most leaders don’t know about, let alone follow. She considers her work as a service and treats others’ work in the same way.

‘3. Hard work. At the age of 93 the Queen puts in 40 hours a week just like most young people working in their 30s and 40s, following this routine every day.

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‘4. Commitment. The Queen has a great sense of duty, devoting her entire life to it, keeping a busy schedule.

The Queen reigns as a servant of the people, rather than lording it over them. (Picture by Shaun Jeffers/Shutterstock) (28677658)

‘5. Curiosity. The Queen has a curious mind. She continues to ask questions of those she meets, not only world leaders but also members of the general public – doctors, engineers, coal miners, everyone! She not only asks questions but also listens to answers carefully and shows a keen interest in understanding the answers because she loves to learn despite being a Queen, a rare quality, especially among leaders.

‘6. Respect others. Another trait that makes her stand out is her ability to respect others. She always believes that respect is earned. “Respect and be respected” has always been her motto. She doesn’t like to interfere and disrespect others and loves to maintain a low profile while letting others do their job. Celia Walden wrote in the Telegraph, that the Queen is “circumspect, muted, subtle and grateful in every arena of her life.” People around her have never seen her misbehave with anyone, which is a testament to her personality and character.

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‘7. Embrace change. Lastly, but certainly not least, unlike traditional leaders who resist change, the Queen loves to embrace change and adapt according to the changing times. Upon her accession she modernised the monarchy and re-connected with the people. She was the first head of a state in the world to send an email in 1976, forty-four years ago. She was ready to embrace change and show others that change is here to stay and you will have to adapt to the change to succeed in the future.’

That is what I learnt from my monarch, qualities I tried to follow when I was in the States. I use the same principles to assess the suitability of those 119 candidates who aspire to rule over us for the next four years. This is what I bear in mind as I do so:

. Personal qualities. It is the personal qualities of deputies that are of first importance, not their promises or their policies. I ask myself, is that candidate honest and trustworthy? Is he/she humble or a show-off who knows all the answers? (Nobody does!) If he/she is wrong, does he/she admit it and apologise? Does he/she persevere in his/her work or easily give up and move on to their next bright idea? Does he/she show independence of mind and spirit or just follow the crowd (probably the latest group of protesters outside the Royal Court house or the loudest voices in the media)?

John Langlois byline. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 28677704)

. Experience. How knowledgeable is he/she in the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life in the Bailiwick? What has he/she achieved in his/her working life so far? If he/she has failed to achieve much in their personal affairs, how will he/she succeed in a much larger sphere? Am I ready to believe their manifesto promises? How much do I trust him/her to spend the money wisely that I pay in tax? It is always easier to spend other people’s money.

Is he/she really committed to the good of the island? Service in the States should be the summit of commitment, not its base. So what work has he/she done previously for the good of the island, in the parish, in the community, helping the vulnerable, volunteering for charities, serving on school councils, or just being helpful to those he/she meets day by day?

. His/her ability for hard work. Deputies have a stack of reading to do – thousands of pages of reports, proposals, requetes and draft legislation in Billets d’Etat, as well as all the departmental reading. It is hard, demanding work. Deputies have to understand what they are reading and work with officials to develop policies for presentations to the States. To do this, when reading reports they need to think clearly using analytical reasoning and applying logic critically, distinguishing between good ideas that will work and nonsense that will not. Do they have the ability to do all that?

Both in the States and in departmental committees they need to be active listeners, critically evaluating what is being said and rejecting what makes no sense. When making a speech they need to be focused, logical and persuasive and be able to modify their speeches to take the debate forward. The most boring speeches are those written the day before the debate and read word-for-word when the debate has already moved on. After hearing all the arguments the deputies need to take tough decisions, not delay difficult matters. They need to be willing to grasp nettles.

. Understanding finance. Deputies must be able to read and understand financial accounts. They handle a lot of our money – £433,000,000 this year. One often hears ‘The States will pay’. That is not the case. The correct statement is ‘The States will pay with taxpayers’ money’. It is you and your neighbours who always pay because without the money paid in tax the States has no money. It is always easier to spend other people’s money than one’s own, which is what we have sometimes seen in the past when millions of pounds of our hard-earned cash have been wasted by our representatives, whose only punishment is not getting elected at the next election. Our deputies need to inspire confidence and trust that they will handle our money wisely.

. Professional politicians. Politics is not a profession so there are no ‘professional’ politicians, only those who are full-time, who refer to themselves as ‘professional’, and those who have an outside job. It is usually beneficial for those who serve us in the States to be in the real world as well as inside the States bubble. In order to serve us adequately they need to be out in the community to understand the needs of the electorate. Certainly, deputies need to find time to discharge their duties, but in a small island of 60,000 it is not necessary to have 38 full-time politicians. They sometimes feel that they need to fill their time by making unnecessary work and spinning out long debates to earn their annual salary of £40,521 (£780 per week) which does not make for the efficient running of government at all.

We have often heard that deputies are wishy-washy and fail to give the leadership this island needs. It is a quality they will certainly need in our Covid-chaotic world in which we and our children and grandchildren will need to pay back debts of hundreds of millions of pounds.

I return to the words of Her Majesty the Queen when 10 years ago she addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the question of leadership. She said: ‘I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.’

If the deputies we elect in October do that we shall achieve much. There has in the past been squabbling and divisiveness in the States and much polarisation. Our consensus form of government should be able to serve us well in the future. I hope that the introduction of party politics will not result in more of the same.

We all have much to think about as we peer into a future with a totally new electoral system which is unique in the world, which leaves us without guideposts or guard rails to guide and protect us. We need top-rate leaders who are competent to meet the considerable challenges this island faces in an uncertain world.

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