The first of the presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have taken place with both sides claiming victory. It’s a format which has become increasingly popular in leadership and election contests over recent years but is it one which really teaches us anything about the leadership abilities of the respective protagonists?
On the positive side, because of the ‘reality show’ nature of these debates they do tend to attract a wider audience, giving candidates the chance to explain their policies in a way which can never be conveyed by the leaflet drop through the door. And it could be argued that the candidate who has obviously put in a lot of preparation time, anticipating questions and eliciting facts, is more likely to make a more reasoned judgement when it comes to matters of policy.
On the other hand, do we really want our leaders to be chosen simply by their ability to speak louder, to make more personal remarks or to deliver an audience pleasing sound bite? Leadership is about far more than these things, if it is even about these at all. Yes great leaders need to be able to challenge the process and to speak to the heart but they also need to be able to inspire and to enable others to act. A great leader is far more than an audience pleaser or a slogan deliverer and that’s something that you’re not going to find out simply from a staged TV debate.