Spain’s lack of true political leaders

Margarita Mayo. Professor. IE Business School

15 September 2016

The latest reason for the current institutional chaos in Spain is that authenticity is nowhere to be seen on Spain’s political stage, or in the country’s three main political leaders - Rajoy, Sánchez and Rivera.

Many Spaniards wake up perplexed each day when they discover that their political leaders continue playing their seemingly endless game of pacts. With the summer holidays over, we’ve all returned to work with the added concern of living in a country whose leaders cannot agree about forming a government. Different aims are not the cause of the problem, rather the opposite in fact, which is fortunate given the need to regenerate a society that has obviously changed. Why then are our leaders incapable of finding the way toward dialogue and cooperation?

Dialogue and cooperation come about when leaders display strong ethical and transparent communication and mutual understanding. This is what Spaniards want from their politicians, regardless of their ideological preferences.

True leaders hold strong values about what is right. They have a mission that goes beyond their own interests. This moral consideration allows an authentic leader to act selflessly.

Authentic leaders are transparent and communicate their ideas clearly. With an orientation toward the future, they present their projects passionately. This style of positive communication allows the leader to create a climate of confidence and optimism.

Authentic leaders are flexible and open yet do not compromise their values, and they seek out the opinion of those who hold opposite views. This openness allows the leader to reach consensus and collaboration.

From the perspective of authentic leadership, let’s look at the three key political leaders in Spain today:

Mariano Rajoy (Popular Party)

Rajoy has proved to be a responsible and persevering leader. However, this perseverance is motivated more by a sense of obligation than devotion. The language of duty is not one that is used by authentic and charismatic leaders.

His ability to reach an agreement with Albert Rivera, the leader of emerging center-right reformist party Ciudadanos, and his meetings with Sanchez show a more flexible side, open to dialogue. But the signing of the pact with Ciudadanos was relegated to representatives of both parties, not their leaders, robbing it of any true meaning. The language he used to play down other agreements also robs his leadership of authenticity.

On the positive side, both Rajoy and Rivera defined the pact as 'open' inviting other parties to join them. That said, Rajoy’s traditional leadership style makes him seem distant, and the message he sends out is: "We have fulfilled our obligation. Others must now meet theirs.”

Pedro Sánchez (PSOE)

Is  Sánchez listening to both sides of his Socialist Party? On the one hand, there are those telling him to meet Podemos, the leftist anti-austerity party, half way and create a progressive alternative. On the other, there are those who say he should allow Rajoy to form a government. But his refusal to budge means there is no hope of moving forward. Sánchez is not exactly open to opposing views, it would seem and he is not keen for any internal debate within the party.

 “A meeting that served no purpose” was how Sánchez described his fifth meeting with Rajoy ahead of the investiture debate in Congress. Rajoy replied that “dialogue always serves a purpose”. Sanchez's comment illustrates his selfishness, his way of expressing his values without regard to the consequences for others. Changing your criteria can be a true act of authenticity. Maintaining the same posture without thinking of the consequences for others is simply obstinacy.

Sánchez insists that Rajoy must seek support in Congress from other parties if he wants to form a government. But the truth is that when it comes to the common good an authentic leader would recognize that this is not possible.

Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos)

Rivera presents himself and his party as the bridge between Rajoy and Sánchez, and has tried to reach agreement with both the PSOE and the PP. This has undermined his credibility, to which he has replied that he is prepared to sacrifice his credibility for the good of the country. Rivera’s flexibility has been punished by the other political parties, suggesting it will be difficult to reach agreement between them. True authenticity means looking for ways to reconcile the essential values and needs of others.

As an agent of change, Rivera highlights his role in political regeneration. "We have begun" was the most repeated expression of Rivera when presenting the pact reached with the Socialists in February, inviting Sánchez to do the same.

However, the pact between the PP and Ciudadanos is now dead in the water. Certainly a short life expectancy for a pact that included 150 measures, many of which Sánchez had also previously signed up in a separate agreement with Rivera.

In conclusion, authenticity is conspicuously absent in Spanish politics and this is the main reason for the current nine-month political deadlock that has left the country without a government.

In the case of Sánchez his lack of authenticity is disguised by his supposed consistency in terms of his values. Rajoy is far from representing an authentic style of leadership, and lacks the necessary ingredients of hope and transparency. Rivera looks like a true leader but has been punished for going back and forth.

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