As we stand just four weeks from the election of the 10th President of Ireland, Joanne Hession, the founder of LIFT Ireland, a national initiative focused on building the leader in each of us, looks at what leadership actually means and why election campaigns tend to bring out the worst in people rather than the best.

We often hear people say that it’s only recently, or with the growth in social media, that election campaigns have taken a turn for the worse. The suggestion is that it has now become the norm that candidates must engage in spin and negative campaigning ‘out of necessity’ because if they don’t ‘play the game’ then there’s no chance of winning, even if they are the best person for the job. When inaction risks giving advantage to competitors, is there any space to take the high moral ground?

However, if we look back, it’s always been like this when two people or more compete for power, authority and accolades. Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, written in the early 16th century, was effectively a guidebook on how to win and retain power and, it has to be said, still stands the test of time, sending shivers down the spine of readers as the often-underhanded tactics of achieving the Prince’s goals are laid out.

How then, in this murky world, can we know that the President that we elect is the best person for the job?

Back in May 2018, we launched a new national initiative called Leading Ireland’s Future Together (LIFT). LIFT’s vision is to create a better Ireland by developing the leader in each of us. Not just politicians, not just CEOs or people you would traditionally think of as leaders. In all of us. That’s because if we each ‘raise our game’ and become more aware of our actions and decisions, we can together behave in ways that lead to a better outcome across our society.

If you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, a nursery teacher, a colleague, a team lead, an employer – you are leading others all the time. If you have influence, you are leading. No matter who you are or what you do, you are a leader, and you must first be able to lead yourself.

Being the President of Ireland is not about power or personal prestige and it’s not a leadership position in the sense of leading a company or organisation where you have targets to hit and profits to make. Being the President is about representing an ideal; that ideal is one that places serving others at its peak. It is leading by being the example of what each of us should strive towards, improving the welfare of their people and being inclusive to all in approach.

The values that inform good leadership influence and guide our choices and behavior – consciously and unconsciously.

LIFT asked the people of Ireland, through independent surveys, what the qualities are that they most want to see in their leaders. It’s timely to look at our Presidential candidates through the lens of these values: Integrity; Respect; Empathy; Accountability; Listening; Determination; Positive Attitude; Competence.

How then do we know that these values are also the values of our chosen candidate? Some leaders step in to positions of power because of love and a sense of purpose. Others seek leadership merely to gain power over others and to revel in a feeling of superiority. Normally it doesn’t take us long to determine which sort of leader we’ve got.

Poor or bad leaders pursue power and prestige, they improve their own status and wealth, seeing others as competitors and enemies and their motive being to remove the opposition. It is this motive that leads to underhanded tactics being part of election campaigns; to spinning of events and information; and to ‘timely leaking’ of information that is intended to cause damage to an opposing candidate.

The President of Ireland is a vitally important leadership position. Yet in the run up to the election we can expect to see poor leadership behavior from candidates through their campaign teams. It’s not good enough to accept this as being ‘just the way it works’. Let’s keep watch to see how many of the candidates live up to the leadership ideal and demonstrate the LIFT qualities during the course of the next few weeks.