When assessing Boris Johnson against key leadership criteria, Nicholas Janni writes that the PM does not cut the mustard, with the recent Partygate scandal doing him no favours. 

It has long struck me that many politicians thrust themselves into positions of senior leadership and responsibility with a lack of inner development that in most professions would be unthinkable. Boris Johnson, anyone?

We only have to look at the "Partygate" debacle to see the damage that can be caused by a prime minister completely lacking one of the most fundamental leadership qualities: presence. A leader with presence embodies and transmits a sense that "I am here and I am available" for their colleagues or constituents. They want to listen and relate to you. When you meet a leader who has presence, you come away feeling inspired to be your very best.

We don't get any of that from Johnson. The only "presence" he has shown is (allegedly) at six of the 12 Downing Street and Whitehall lockdown parties being probed by the Met Police.

My work as a leadership consultant is dedicated to exploring the inner development that leaders require. I believe there are seven key features of leadership presence: credibility, authenticity, emotional empathy, depth of groundedness, integrity, morality and service to the whole versus ego.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson fails in every one of them. Let's break it down?


Where do you start? Throughout his career Johnson has been dogged by multiple accusations of lying, and twice fired for doing so (as a journalist for The Times in 1988 for falsifying quotes, and as a shadow minister for Conservative leader Michael Howard in 2004 for lying about an affair).

He shifted positions in a major way about Brexit, and told well-documented blatant lies in the campaign.

And in Partygate he is giving the impression of just saying whatever he thinks is needed to survive – treating the public like idiots when speaking of not realising he was attending a party.


An authentic leader is transparent and consistent with their values. But who would be able to articulate exactly what Johnson stands for? How his personal life story has led him to his core values? We have no idea.

Emotional empathy

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As I set out in my upcoming book, Leader as Healer, today's leaders must be able to express authentic empathy.

A recent study by Catalyst, a US organisation which campaigns for better workplaces for women, highlighted this very point – finding empathy is a force for productivity and positivity.

Can you say you have ever seen Johnson genuinely care about something, showing his emotions in a way that is deeply human? Compare that to Keir Starmer's Labour Party conference speech last autumn, in which he spoke movingly of his mother and father.

Depth of groundedness

Think of a calm and literally physically grounded presence that transmits: "You can lean on me, I am steady in the storm." Johnson just blusters left and right. Dominic Cummings' shopping trolley analogy comes to mind: "Smashing from one side of the aisle to the other."

Compare Johnson to his chancellor, Rishi Sunak. While his recent manoeuvring has been less than impressive, Sunak has had a very grounded presence taking on the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.


This is one of the most obvious character traits of an eminent leader. But we simply can't believe what Johnson says. Perhaps it's down to his sense of entitlement, going right back to what his teacher wrote in a school report in 1982: "I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else."

And perhaps that explains the impression from "Partygate" that he considers himself above the law, shifting his ground literally and metaphorically.


We only have to look at Johnson's serial philandering, and famous evasiveness about how many children he has, to get a sense of his moral intelligence – or lack of.

Service to the whole versus ego

Most concerning about our PM is the constant impression he will take the country down rather than lose power. It's just as Benjamin Netanyahu did in Israel, and Donald Trump did in the US. That we can compare him to such men is Johnson's biggest leadership failing of all.

We – more urgently than ever – need leaders with a strong sense of purpose. Leaders who embody all the above qualities, and who we fully trust are in service to something far greater than their own egos.

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