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Why the man with no ego will make a good Taoiseach

'Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. Leadership is lifting a person's vision to high sights'

-- Management guru Peter F Drucker

Enda Kenny lacks charisma and economic acumen; and apparently he doesn't walk on water. If you were to believe the bulk of the media intelligentsia, Kenny should drop out of politics right now. Instead he stands on the brink of being the next Taoiseach. And a good one. Why? Because Enda Kenny has no ego.

He is not obsessed with his own standing when it comes to doing the right thing.

I first interviewed Kenny back in 2002 when he ran for, and secured, the FG party leadership. He was very driven but, yes, he lacked the charisma that personified some leaders. Bertie undoubtedly had the 'X Factor'. Cowen was a great debater and would have won any televised leaders' debate. Is Kenny worse for not being like them?

Think about that when you buy into the consensus line.

Kenny is less driven by vanity than his rivals past and present. How do we know this? He is willing to include those who personally moved against him and he is willing to promote those who have more flair than him. Very few in Irish political life have done that.

Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave was one. Cosgrave had that same lack of ego and it helped him as a leader. He appointed his main rival, Garret FitzGerald, to his front bench. His coalition government wasn't afraid to have brighter talents than Cosgrave like Peter Barry. As for charisma, Cosgrave was seen as a dour conservative, yet he was an effective leader.

Kenny similarly has brought on people like Leo Varadkar. Crucially, after the heave against him he said cabinet positions would still be open to the coup rebels. Yes, he did have his own night of the long knives, but overall it was a smart move.

Look at the recent work that Michael Noonan and Leo Varadkar have done in positioning FG back into the centre right of Irish politics. An ego-driven individual would never have allowed Varadkar back in. Again, I can hear the latte intelligentsia: 'He doesn't know about the economy. . . '

Kenny's strength is that he doesn't pretend to be an economist -- unlike some other politicians (listen to Gerry Adams). Kenny has others to provide that knowledge. I believe that if there was a crucial decision to be made he would not be vain enough to take it all upon himself.

Let's address another criticism: Kenny is somehow flaky, not capable of making hard, ruthless decisions. Well, Kenny does bite the bullet when necessary.

FG's former director of elections Frank Flannery was demoted fairly quickly when he landed Kenny in hot water with a gaffe about coalition with Sinn Fein.

It appeared that Richard Bruton had the tide behind him when he challenged Kenny for the leadership. Not so. Kenny adroitly played the art of realpolitik to see off the pretenders. Not so flaky, perhaps?

The danger for the man with no ego is that others will strive to inculcate it in him.

Politics today is about what the sociologist Erving Goffman termed 'Impression Management'. This is a process whereby we construct an egoic self to control what other people think of us. Just think Alastair Campbell and New Labour. Kenny, like Gilmore, has to be wary of being over spinified.

Kenny is vulnerable in media situations. The last interview I did with Enda played badly for him.

He gave me the remarkable admission that he was ''going to be more myself from now on". The statement became the subject of much derision.

However, it revealed a Kenny who knew he had been packaged into some fine dandy to meet with the approval of the latte intelligentsia. When we met again after that he made a joke about it. Smart man, whatever he felt privately toward me.

Any decent analysis of Kenny must be evidence-based. So how could the gaffe-prone Mayo TD possibly re-organise this country and get it to share his vision?

In 2002, Fine Gael, like this country today, was a demoralised broken entity. They had their worst-ever electoral showing, losing 23 seats with a five per cent decline in their national vote. They were up against the most popular politician of the time, Bertie Ahern. Their Dail representation stood at just 31 TDs.

Kenny, the newcomer, did what all good leaders do in a crisis. He devised a plan, communicated it and implemented it. At its heart was a rebuilding of the grassroots. He toured the country and increased party membership. Those foot soldiers would be vital in forthcoming elections. Labour and Sinn Fein, take note.

Did it work? In the 2004 European and local elections Fine Gael outperformed Fianna Fail for the first time since 1927. In the 2007 election, FG increased its seats tally by 20. Certainly Bertie won the TV debate, but it was Eoghan Harris's Late Late debate intervention that turned the tide for Fianna Fail.

In the 2009 local elections, FG gained 88 seats and became the largest party at that level for the first time in its history.

That achievement is in stark contrast to the latte intelligentsia's subtext that Kenny is the male dumb blond. Look at his strategic positioning of Fine Gael to the centre right. Fine Gael post-Garret FitzGerald suffered from a lack of a definitive policy identity.

The PDs hoovered up that ground. Kenny has now created a Fine Gael identity through a reform crusade highlighted by key policy documents. Micheal Martin, with his offer to support Fine Gael, is smart enough to know that the centre right is the hinterland they all need to claim.

Kenny will never win the X Factor. Nor will he win the Nobel Prize for Economics. And, indeed, there may well be more verbal gaffes. But his lack of ego, as evidenced in the ability to recognise his own failings and other people's assets, will make him a good Taoiseach.

And if you're tempted by charisma and a forceful ego, think carefully. Just remember what Cowen and Bertie left us.

Blog www.citizenkeane.ie

Sunday Independent