Rachida Dati is a French MEP and the mayor of Paris’ 7th district. She gave Leaders League her thoughts on the relationship between collective and individual leadership.
Is collective leadership at a point where it can be seen as viable alternative to individual leadership?
Rachida Dati. Leadership can be conceived of and viewed in different ways depending on the objective. But above all leaders must have the ability to listen and to make themselves heard, encourage sharing of points of view and be decisive. A good working system of collective leadership is much harder to put in place than top-down leadership. True leadership requires give and take and the ability to get everyone pulling the same direction.
The great successes that your party has known over the years, were they built on collective or individual leadership?
We mustn’t view things in such absolute terms. Often a presidential election in France is framed as a meeting between an individual and the people. There are no great political victories without an exceptional personality leading the way. Therefore individual leadership is indispensible. That said, in politics no one can win without the backing of a solid team, which acts as a sounding board and can help the leader make the right decisions that will see them win over the masses. I saw that first hand in 2007 when I was spokesperson for Nicholas Sarkozy. Both he and his rival for the Elysée, Ségolène Royal, were charismatic characters who incarnated a new type of leadership. Yet although the socialist leader trumpeted her desire for collective leadership, this came across a lack of clear direction.
Can collective and individual leadership coexist?
At the UMP since 2012 we have had different forms of leadership. Nicholas Sarkozy, when returned to become president of the UMP, assembled the largest group of supporters. He was sensitive to the different currents and stages in the decision making process. Before that, we had a triumvirate of leaders that ran the show in the interim, following the resignation of Jean François Copé. This was a time of collective leadership taking decisions for the party. I would say this shows that the two forms of leadership are quite complimentary.
How should a minister, a head of a political party or a back-bencher envisage their role within a collective leadership structure?
The minister must have solidarity that is consubstantial to his role: the famous government unity. When I was a minister I was very attached to the notion. There will always be differences of opinions with other members of the government, but these I always resolved in private. The head of a party, on the other hand, is the very person who ensures the smooth running of collective leadership, but who also sets the agenda and takes the decision themselves when necessary. A backbencher in a modern party cannot simply be an attention grabber. As those closest to the people of the country, they are our most valuable advisors.
If collective leadership does away with the individual, aren’t we in danger of creating a ‘tyranny of the majority’?
I don’t like the expression ‘tyranny of the majority’ as we live in a democracy. Whether we like it or not, the will of the majority is the foundation of democracy. This does not prevent individuals from expressing dissent. Within my own political family we have people with different sensibilities on a range of issues. We have even formed tickets with other centrist parties on occasion, which does not stop them from having a political agenda that’s distinct from ours. The best form of leadership is a mix of the collective and the individual. It cannot be one or the other because it is by taking the best aspects of each that we find success.