Lord Michael Hastings: Courage requires leaders to define themselves by characteristics and qualities
Lord Michael Hastings shared his thoughts on leadership, statesmanship and the importance of putting courage over fear.
Lord Hastings opened his London Episode session by reading an excerpt of a message from the Queen which was sent to delegates of last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, where she said that she hoped the conference would be one of those “rare occasions” where leaders would “rise about the politics of the moment and achieve true statesmanship”.
Lord Hastings homed in on the phrase “rare occasions” in regards to the ability of leaders to transcend politics, put ego aside and focus on doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Lord Hastings said: “Are we confined to perpetually have leadership that falls short of statesmanship? That was the heart of the Queen’s challenge.”
This very challenge brings with it the question of whether society can expect to experience statesmanship when it has been under leadership for so long?
To understand this, Lord Hastings said, we must first understand the difference between statesmanship and leadership.
Lord Hastings explained: “Leadership may be best defined as those who take decisions on our behalf and ask us to engage with them, embrace these decisions. Some may say that’s been the reality over the last few years…under Covid.”
“Statesmanship is different. It is the proposition that there are big ideals, big objectives, big challenges, big requirements, big issues that require us to step beyond.”
For Lord Hastings, a prime example of the embodiment of this ethos was the former Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkle. During her 16 years in the role, Merkel was untouched by political scandal, whether it be fraud or nepotism. The concept of going beyond was also evident in Merkel’s “open door approach to migrants from the Middle East.”
“Maybe, in the end, it cost her popularity, but it showed her dignity.”
The concept of the servant leader, one who does not seek to use their influence to place themselves higher than those that have put them in their position of leader at the risk of being viewed as a ‘pushover’, is key instance of statesmanship.
He said: “Therein lies the opportunity to surrender public respect, be willing to let it go if the opportunity is instead to serve duly.
“And if that opportunity to serve duly requires the fact that other people will disengage, misunderstand or disconnect, so be it.”
Looking to another leader from history, Lord Hastings spoke of former State President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, F. W. de Klerk. De Klerk is well-known for being the President who released Nelson Mandela from prison, but it was his collaboration with Mandela that Lord Hastings gave as another example of pure statesmanship in practice.
“F. W. de Klerk submitted himself to be Vice President under the very man his party had imprisoned,” said Lord Hastings.
“De Klerk didn’t just cease to be President of South Africa as a minority white leader, he chose to become subordinate to the majority black leadership. He did so years into Mandela’s term for one powerful reason.
“If the structure of government were to deliver the best for South Africa, then the man who could pull the levers better get behind the man who has the mandate. That is statesmanship.”
Lord Hastings rounded off his session by acknowledging that he had delved into history to find examples of those who exemplify the ethos of going beyond in order to deliver, but he made clear that looking to the past should not come at the sacrifice of considering the future.
He said: “All of us could do with the benefit of foresight, not just hindsight. I’d rather know how to be better towards a courageous future than to look back on one and wish I might have done it.
“Courage requires us all to define ourselves by characteristics and qualities that distinguish us different from being operators.
“Very often those in office…see the job as the job. But I’ve always tried to step beyond that to see the role as the platform the place which to take courage and in taking courage to act beyond the norm”