“Silverbacks” or Orang Utans – The Leadership Enigma in Southeast Asia

Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.

Partyforumseasia: The latest Economist (September 27th, p. 67) compares leadership “qualities” in the corporate world with dominant behavior among gorillas: Gorilla“IN GORILLA society, power belongs to silverback males. These splendid creatures have numerous status markers besides their back hair: they are bigger than the rest of their band, strike space-filling postures, produce deeper sounds, thump their chests lustily and, in general, exude an air of physical fitness. Things are not that different in the corporate world. The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body.”
OK, so much for the corporate world. Is it very different on the political stage? We had taken up the issue some time ago with the good looks of Yingluck Shinawatra, which certainly helped her to get accepted as Prime Minister of Thailand but didn’t protect her against being toppled as perceived proxy of her brother Thaksin.
Political leadership is probably related to a certain degree to “silverback” features from the gorilla world, but there are many exceptions to the list. From Napoleon to Sarkozy and many others, short politicians have been successful. The touch of grey in thick, lustrous hair? Not necessarily, Putin is nearly bald. Handsome or beautiful faces? Perhaps an asset but not necessarily. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao or Nixon were far from impressing by their features but mesmerizing men and many women alike.
There are research results in political psychology looking into why some politicians seem to be more trustworthy than others at first glance. The test persons (mostly students) had just one or two seconds to watch the picture and rate it.
The spoken word is another powerful tool to impress voters and citizens, and, obviously much more based on the way it is expressed than dependent on the content. On that background the astounding catching-up-campaign of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia and the final victory of least gorilla-style politician Joko Widodo are remarkable. Was it the aura of credibility against strongman posturing?

Partyforumseasia would very much appreciate comments and contributions to the leadership enigma in Southeast Asia. It is a region with gentle orang utans, not chest thumping gorillas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s