The Problem with Elected Leadership

There’s a problem with elected leadership, but it’s not a problem caused by the people in power.

The problem is that we, those who elect, choose our leaders based on non-leadership-related traits. Instead of asking for facts, we ask what kind of music they like. Instead of demanding consistent answers to important questions, we cheer and boo as if they’re star players of opposing sports teams. Or maybe the mascots.

Imagine an election process free of the performances and oratory flimflam we’ve come to expect of modern politicians. It’s difficult, isn’t it? What would that even look like?

Perhaps it would be a nameless, faceless process, where candidates are stripped of their flair and able to present only factual information to the electorate: this is my exact plan to cut the deficit, this is my exact stance on abortion and what I will do about it within six months of being elected, etc.

An elected politician could be pulled from office if they failed to live up to their concrete promises. Another vote would take place, and the representative would have the opportunity to once again, with facts and real data, explain why they failed to do what they said they would in the appointed time. If the reason is good (new information, changed situation, different approach), the voters would allow them to keep their position.

Today, however, we vote for candidates, not for what they represent.

Oh sure, we pick up a few catch phrases we’re taught by our chosen hero along the way, but that’s not the real reason we generally support them. We like their brand. Their looks. Their speaking ability. We fixate on who we would want to have a beer with, rather than who would lead the country best. We choose one key issue and ignore everything else.

This is why we have mediocre candidates: because we’re voting for people, not ideas.

We’d be far better off voting for leadership, rather than voting for leaders.

Update: February 22, 2017

Another way to say this might be that we have misaligned incentives in politics, just as we have misaligned incentives in schools. In the latter we’re prepared to take tests, not to learn, and as such we become excellent test-takers but might graduate as mediocre learners of things. In the former, politicians are incentivized to be great public speakers and near-caricatures, but that doesn’t mean that have a lick of talent for managing or making smart decisions.