Peter Jackson column

If, contrary to my predictions, Nicolas Sarkozy succeeds in reforming France, he will provide a further example of a historical observation of mine.

If, contrary to my predictions, Nicolas Sarkozy succeeds in reforming France, he will provide a further example of a historical observation of mine.

That is that great leaders are often outsiders, Sarkozy himself being the son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a Jewish mother. Indeed, the leader of the French extreme Right, Le Pen, said, with characteristic unpleasantness, that Sarkozy was not "French enough" to be president.

"Great" in this context, I must emphasise, does not imply any moral qualities, only that the leader in question - for good or ill - radically changed their nation or party and changed history.

Consider these examples - Napoleon was a Corsican, Stalin a Georgian, Hitler an Austrian. Or, to take a less famous case, Alberto Fujimori, Peru's authoritarian and reforming leader from 1990 to 2000, was of Japanese descent. He was also, incidentally, the only leader of a nation, as far as I'm aware, to have resigned his office, by fax, while visiting another country. Tony Blair was, and still is, very much an outsider in the Labour Party and, according to many observers, has never had any great affection for it. And Margaret Thatcher was certainly not part of the Conservative Party's grandee, Carlton Club ruling caste.

Outsiders bring about far reaching change probably because they find it easier to take an objective, dispassionate view of the institution they lead and are more willing to slay sacred cows than those more deeply immersed in the culture of the country, party or business in question. It is also the case that such outsiders are often seemingly indifferent to the sufferings of those they lead during the period of change.

None of this should come as a surprise to those who look at leadership in business, where it is hardly rare, especially in larger organisations, for a new leader to be appointed from a completely different sector. In business, it is taken for granted that such a person can bring a new perspective to bear upon old problems and it is often seen as a positive advantage that they will be unaffected by the prevailing culture.

But being an outsider does not guarantee success and, as some of the historical examples show, change is not always for the better.

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