Some time ago I wrote an article about Trump as a man whose I’m-OK-You’re-not-OK behaviour, one that required consistent win-lose interactions with others, masked a deeply insecure soul. Yet despite these insecurities, despite this lack of self-esteem, he built up extraordinary self-confidence, and through bullying, cheating and lying he achieved all that he did.
I refer to this as I recently read a provocative article in the London Times about Britain’s immediate former Prime Minister, Liz Truss. The headline said it all: “Truss proves talent-free bluster isn’t just for men”. And the opening paragraph tells us she broke one of the last glass ceilings. Not as the first female PM in her country, for she was not, but as “the first woman to reach the highest office propelled by gargantuan self-belief alone”.
Writer Janice Turner rightly reckons the kind of self-belief she displayed has not been associated with her gender. Indeed, she tells us, feminists have been known to pray “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre man”.
We’ve been reading a lot about women holding back from higher office while younger and less experienced men lobby their way through. Here though, Ms Turner observed “a shameless, narcissistic, talent-free sense of entitlement”. Wow. Lots in common with Trump for sure, and indeed with so many politicians the world over.
I have also written about the competence-confidence matrix, with the competent one who lacks confidence often suffering from the “imposter syndrome”, while the confident one who lacks competence displays a cocky arrogance. The ideal position, as espoused by my heroes such as Ed Schein and Adam Grant, are those who behave with “confident humility”.
So where is Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss’s successor, in all of this? In a much better place. We have been reading about the values with which he was brought up and which it appears he has been able to largely hold on to despite entering the cut and thrust world of win-lose politics: family, honesty, education and hard work. Not a bad quartet.
His competence, certainly in matters financial, is indisputable. And his communication skills are definitely superior to hers. Well, that’s no big deal, as rarely have I come across such a wooden performer as Liz Truss in such a high office. Boy was she in need of coaching…but who knows, maybe her excess of self-esteem over self-awareness made her uncoachable.
How about our politicians here? For sure some are more competent than others, and some are better communicators than others. Many are at their best at high-octane campaign rallies whose objectives are mere entertainment, hype and goodies-distribution, while others know how to switch between such show-business performance and more serious and substantive output.
To be a politician, confidence is everything. As each one puts themselves forward for election, they are certain they will win, however justified or unjustified their optimism. So it was with Truss, so it was with Sunak; and so it was with all our political candidates in August, including those who lost.
Our responsibility as citizens is to study the competence-confidence mix of those who seek our votes, where competence includes adherence to good values and where mere confidence is woefully insufficient.
It was good to see the Mkenya Daima campaign focusing on this requirement for not only selecting good men and women, but then holding those who succeed at the ballot to account. It is why the Mkenya Daima tag line is Nitatenda Wajibu Wangu (I will do my responsibility).
It’s so dispiriting to me to see huge numbers of voters in the developed world casting their support for the Trumps and the Trusses of this world.
It shows the weakness in the civic education provided in so many countries that allows for populist promise-makers to get away with what they clearly should not… including Boris Johnson and his Brexit ones.
We’ve been through our elections just a few months ago. Have we selected enough of the humbly competent? Stay on the ball, fellow Kenyans, as President William Ruto has challenged us to do.
Rishi Sunak promised British citizens a government of “professionalism, integrity and accountability at all levels”. And President Ruto, when he confirmed his new cabinet, also called for integrity and accountability. We must indeed “do our responsibility”.