Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s popularity has risen to such an extent that commentators are increasingly speculating over the possibility that the eccentric former journalist could be the next Prime Minister. The mayor’s meteoric rise received a welcome boost from a successful London 2012, but has he got what it takes to be an international leader?

More to the point, how successfully does his style and approach, which is certainly unique, addresses the fundamental questions for leaders?

What does he stand for?

All successful leaders win support by being clear about what they stand for. I would argue that while Johnson is notorious for being loose-lipped, subversive and appears to shrug off the formalities that cloak most politicians; his political messages are less clear-cut than his personality. I for one, find it difficult to identify hard-nosed policies among Johnson’s idiosyncrasies, jokes and his wobbly bike riding. It is also easy to forget that this is the same guy that used to edit the Spectator – a magazine described in a Guardian report as having “a purple-faced right wing worldview.

Even the credibility Johnson gained following the Olympic Games is difficult to quantify because of the one-off nature of the event. Is his popularity largely dependent on a once in a lifetime event? Will this be enough to give him longevity as a politician?  Like all leaders if Johnson does want a shot at the top job, he will need to be crystal clear about what drives him and what he believes in. Johnson certainly says a lot, but is he capable of laying down solid plans and delivering on them?

Does he have a following? 

One thing Boris Johnson has been extremely successful at developing is a following. This is one of the fundamentals of leadership. Johnson’s appearances at the Conservative Party Conference this week have generated more buzz than that of political heavyweights George Osborne and David Cameron. What is the secret behind his appeal? He is an incredibly quirky and creative speaker, as illustrated by his speech this week. Johnson was on typical form, hailing Cameron as a kitchen broom “cleaning up the mess left by the Labour party.

He has an actor’s ability to enrapture audiences, but his unpolished approach means it would be difficult to accuse him of giving a purely ‘staged’ performance. Johnson is a classic example of how leaders can use rhetoric and language to raise their profile, increase authority and build a positive reputation. Leaders can learn a lot from the theatre. 

Who listens when he speaks?

Like all great leaders, Johnson is listened to when he speaks. His informal style wins people’s confidence, just in the same way that his off-the cuff comments make him appear genuine. Johnson conjures up aspirational visions of London that people tap into. Throughout his tenure as mayor he has created clear pictures of a greener and safer city, while taking actions that increased his visibility, such as the introduction of what have now been termed ‘Boris Bikes. 

Also his enthusiasm and confidence about the success of the games have been proved, illustrating that his vision for the games did indeed become a reality. At the moment Johnson is associated with positive event like the Olympics. How would he fair as a Prime Minister delivering tough messages around austerity?

Do you think Johnson has it in him to become the next prime minister? In Part 2 I’ll look at the final TWO fundamental leadership questions that Johnson must address if he is to make that step up to Prime Minister.

Are the leaders within your business thinking about these questions and, more to the point, could they offer positive answers to each one?

Clive Hook
ClearWorth
Read ClearWorth’s latest white paper report that addresses the Five Fundamental Questions for Leaders 

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