Is Tony Blair an underrated global leader? I felt like I received a well-deserved slap of reality this morning as I heard the perpective of a close Blair advisor. But after speaking later with some fellow communication professionals, I’m not so sure.

I certainly felt the shallowness of my US-centric political knowledge as I listened to an address by Lord Philip Gould, a leading European strategist in politics and public affairs, and long-time advisor to Prime Minister Blair. Gould addressed 1,500+ professional communicators at the 2005 International Conference of the International Association of Business Communicators.

The war in Iraq and global issues of debt relief and the environment get regular press coverage in the U.S. But I’ve read that coverage as an American, who sees the U.S. leading the charge, with other nations playing supportive roles. I know that Blair, at great political risk, has been a staunch supporter of the decision to overthrough the Iraqi dictatorial government. I haven’t followed his efforts regarding the environment and debt reduction for nations.

As Lord Gould presented his talk titled, “The Leadership Lessons of Tony Blair,” my appreciation of the prime minister increased. Gould stated that he was presenting lessons learned from Blair’s approach to leadership. Don’t ask me to list them all, because he talked too quickly. I really needed a PowerPoint slide! (Put that bat down, James Carville.)

I know that Lord Gould mentioned:

  • Substance (Have something to say)
  • Character (Make tough decisions and keep going through criticism)
  • Flexibility (Don’t fight pointless battles–give-and-take as appropriate)

He also mentioned Strategy (Strategic Vision) and Purpose, but I don’t know whether they were lessons learned, or portions of the three earlier bullets. All of these leadership points were linked by Gould to examples of how Blair has positively impacted the government and people of Britain.

But I don’t know whether to believe Lord Gould’s perspective on leadership, or his assertion that Blair’s leadership style is the root of excitement brewing over his pending headship of the Group of Eight nations, set to meet next week in Britain.

Blair “fits comfortably into the world as it is, but is committed to changing it,” Gould said. A couple of IABC members seated at the table with me said afterward that Blair didn’t lead the charge on debt relief and the environment–he was reacting to a groundswell of support within the UK on those topics.

So just like the keynote speakers from the previous evening, Mary Matalin and James Carville, I was left with doubts as to which portions of the talk were fact, and which were spin.