Charisma revisited: Nicholas Sarcozy vs Francois Hollande

May 5, 2012

As the Presidential campaign draws to a close we examine the leadership style of Nicolas Sarcozy for evidence of charisma, and of his rival Francois Hollande, who has beed described as the ‘normal man’ candidate

Francois Hollande has been described as Mr Ordinary, the anti-charismatic candidate in the Presidential battle. He rejects the idea of charisma as a personality trait, and considers it more a matter of social perception.

As the Guardian noted:

Charisma as perception

If the presidential race is a battle to elect a republican monarch from an array of flamboyant ego-driven personas, the plodding, managerial Hollande is its antithesis. He reasons that after five years of the testosterone-fuelled, frenetic, rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy , and with an economic crisis threatening France, this is the moment for a Mr Ordinary.

Asked about fears that he was too bland to be president, Hollande said: “Everyone says François Mitterrand had huge charisma. But before he was president they used to call him badly dressed, old, archaic and say he knew nothing about the economy … until the day he was elected. It’s called universal suffrage. When you’re elected, you become the person that embodies France. That changes everything.”

A review in the Wall Street Journal reveals various facets of President Sarcozy’s leadership behaviours and style:

Strategic Leadership

His remarks suggest that his strategy concerns are often around projecting his own personality

In his five years as French president, Mr. Sarkozy has been a man in constant motion—part of his leadership strategy of “moving at the speed of light,” as he described it to aides ahead of his May 2007 election. “I’ll be bombarding France with initiatives, and the opposition will get exhausted in trying to catch an ever-moving target,” he said at the time, according to people present for the conversation.

“I know what my strategy should be,” Mr. Sarkozy said to an aide, [more recently] according to a person who was present. “But I sometimes get lost.”

Symbolic leadership

Such a charismatic style also tends to be associated also with an appreciation of the importance of leadership actions at a symbol,ic level:

Mr. Sarkozy recently said that his failing marriage helps to explain some of his actions early on. His presidency got off to a rough start. He had promised a “rupture” with the patrician style of many previous French presidents. “I won’t betray you, I won’t lie to you and I won’t disappoint you,” Mr. Sarkozy said at a victory rally the day of his election. The next day, Mr. Sarkozy and his then-wife jetted to Malta for a cruise on a billionaire’s yacht. Mr. Sarkozy was pelted with criticism over his lifestyle and alleged closeness to France’s business elite—something he has strongly denied. Nevertheless, the controversy continued throughout his term.

“I made a mistake,” Mr. Sarkozy said in April [2012], referring to a luxury Mediterranean cruise. “Part of my brain was busy trying to salvage something, and I did not seize the impact such a symbol would have.”

Motivation and manic energy

Another facet of his style is a manic energy more often associated with a football coach pre-match, or maybe that of a drill sergeant at a boot camp. In February, Mr. Sarkozy kicked off his re-election campaign. “The plan is simple,” he told aides, according to people present. “We go at full speed, and then we accelerate.”

To go more deeply

Leaders we deserve followed the leadership style and career of Segolene Royal, Hollande’s former partner. Her TV debate with Sarcozy four years ago was described at the time as a beauty contest

Now, her belated support for her ex-husband Hollande [Le Monde: ‘the revenge of Segolene’] has been reported as a deal which will see her in an influential position in French politics, if he is elected President.

Another more recent contest between a charismatic and a non-charismatic leaders: Harry Rednapp v Roy Hodgson. Again, victory went to the non-charismatic figure.

On the eve of the final ballot, polls are predicting a win for ‘Mr Normal’.


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