Memo to HR: No Leader Makes the Cut | Assessment of party leaders

Is Stephen Harper a good CEO? Could Michael Ignatieff be a better chief executive? What about Jack Layton?

As executive headhunters, we size up candidates for top corporate roles and make recommendations to clients every day. At election time, we assess the party leaders the same way we evaluate top corporate candidates. We find this gives clarity as we head to the polling station. After all, a number of the skills required of a prime minister are akin to what is needed to lead a corporation.

As recruiters, we’ve sifted through the candidates’ qualifications and we’re ready to present our findings to our client (you, the electorate).

First, we’ve immediately eliminated one candidate — or, rather he has declined the CEO’s office at Canada Co. That would be Gilles Duceppe, a capable manager but one whose agenda is predicated on the organization’s demise.

Second, upon consideration we’ve eliminated another candidate, Elizabeth May, because without a seat in the House of Commons (i.e. position of influence in the company) we believe it would be difficult to seriously consider her. We do, however, fully support diversity and recommend that one, two or three major parties offer voters a female leader in the next election.

For 2011, we are left with three candidates for Canada Co. CEO: Mr. Harper, Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton.

Management style

This is an area of at least perceived contrast between the two top contenders. Mr. Harper is seen as a micromanager who has consolidated power in his office and away from his team.

Then again, corporate leaders are often forced to take a more centralized leadership approach when their organization lacks a unified mandate/mission (i.e. minority government). But we wonder if he were given a majority whether he wouldn’t loosen up on his direct reports.

Mr. Ignatieff is presenting an image that he is an inclusive and collaborative manager. His direct reports (the Liberal caucus) have suffered from a crisis of leadership and he is carrying that weight into the election. He loves to march his team out behind him for photo ops and chide his opponent for being a one-man-band. It may be genuine, but it can at times come across as posturing.

Ability to inspire

This generation of political leader is not as strong on the “inspire-¬meter” as Churchill, Trudeau or Reagan.

Employees prefer an inspirational leader over a transactional manager. Neither Harper nor Ignatieff have yet elevated themselves in this regard. Often actions speak louder than words and seeing Mr. Layton out on the hustings after prostate cancer and hip surgery is inspirational. Companies have historically galvanized around leaders who show courage and humanity and this directly correlates to the political sphere as well.

Crisis management skills

Mr. Harper can hang his hat on the fact that he was at the tiller during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and Canada fared better than most. Truth be told, just as corporate leaders often take credit for their predecessors’ achievements, Mr. Harper got some help from earlier Liberal moves. But perception is reality in politics and business.

Mr. Ignatieff has faced his own type of emergencies — from losing a Liberal leadership race, to supporting a coalition in 2008 to topple the Conservatives and then reversing his stance, to being painted as an interloper from the United States. Certainly recent candidate crises haven’t helped his cause.

And while Mr. Harper is dealing with his own controversies (Bev Oda, Bruce Carson and Dimitri Soudas come to mind) he continues to demonstrate an ability to ride through the storm.

Mr. Layton has made astute moves in this area of crisis management, particularly when it comes to supporting or voting against Mr. Harper’s government, depending on what he could negotiate for his constituents.

So while each of the candidates demonstrate their unique skills and experience, it will likely come down to overall fit, that elusive third factor that clients struggle with.

As executive recruiters we have the luxury of finding CEO candidates and developing a short list. None of the three would make our short list for CEO of the country. But we’ve got to work with what we’ve got. We recommend that it would be prudent to stay the course and urge the other parties to diversify and bring in fresh leadership with new ideas for the next election.

Financial Post

Alan Zelnicker is a partner at Rosenzweig & Co., a senior executive search firm with offices in Toronto, Calgary and New York.

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