Prime Minister Gordon Brown was considered leader-in-waiting for years; in office he is dismissed as a ditherer, though few are nostalgic for the 'decisive' leadership his predecessor showed over Iraq.
The US elections pit Messianic Youth against Experienced Maverick, respectively complemented by an 'attack dog' and a 'hockey mom', each embodying different qualities. The Boris versus Ken contest to lead London revealed a chasm in personal style, but few political differences.
What does it take to lead in society today? Is it all about character rather than ideas? Rudderless Western societies seem to yearn for leadership, moral as well as political, to establish what we stand for, and where we are going.
At the same time, the concept seems to have been downsized. Fashionable Leadership Studies diplomas imply it's no more than a set of generic skills that can be taught irrespective of context, whether in politics, business or any other field. The mantras of a 'knowledge society' put a premium on novelty rather than substance, and fresh-faced pretenders often seem driven more by PR and opinion-polling than clear aims or ideals. Centrally-appointed 'tsars' and 'champions' leading task forces on school dinners or drugs seem less embodiments of principle than bureaucratic holograms.
Indeed, today's political, corporate and cultural elites often seem to be leaders-in-denial. From boardrooms to cultural institutions, authority is 'outsourced' to 'the public', whose views are solicited at every opportunity.
No TV programme is complete without the 'text us your views', and no institution can decide anything without 'consultation'. The challenge to 'elitism' extends even to the idea that adults know better than children: the government's recent Children's Plan damns the traditional curriculum for being 'dominated by content led by the teacher'.
Do inclusive 'Big Conversations' symbolise a fresh, empathetic approach to leadership, or simply give faux legitimacy to isolated elites? Isn't this 'listening' approach the antithesis of leadership? Where will vacuous leaders lacking ideals of their own take us?
Should we welcome the demise of hierarchical models of leadership, or does society need strong leaders to flourish? Must leadership imply deference to authority, or might it mean all of us taking responsibility and uniting around ideas to shape our own destiny? Is the current malaise about a lack of those ideas, or a lack of character?- Battle of Ideas
Claire Fox is the director of the Institute of Ideas (IoI), which she established to create a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint.
Fox initiated the IoI while co-publisher of the current affairs journal LM magazine (formerly Living Marxism). The IoI has since worked with a variety of prestigious institutions in Britain and abroad.
Fox is a panelist on BBC Radio 4's "The Moral Maze" and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education and the media on TV and radio. Fox writes regularly for national newspapers and a range of specialist journals. Fox has a monthly column in the Municipal Journal.
Brendan O'Neill is the editor of spiked. He started his career in journalism at spiked's predecessor, Living Marxism, until it was forced to close in 2000 following a notorious libel action brought by ITN.
O'Neill writes widely for publications on both sides of the Atlantic. His journalism has been published in the New Statesman, the Spectator, the Guardian, The Sunday Times, the British Journalism Review, the Press Gazette and the Catholic Herald in Britain. He is also a feature-writer for the Christian Science Monitor in America and for the BBC in Britain.
He writes a weekly blog for the Guardian website, Comment Is Free.
He is a British correspondent for the Polish political weekly PrzeKroj, and has written for newspapers and magazines in Australia, South Africa, Canada, India, Germany, France, Italy and Denmark. His work covers everything from war and terrorism to free speech and junk food. He was a consultant for the book Human, published by Dorling Kindersley and winner of the British Medical Association Medical Book Award 2005.
Andrew Ritchie has been Director of Goodenough College since July 2006. He took up this appointment on leaving the British Army after 34 years as a career soldier. He was trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and later read Law and Politics at Durham University.
He served in many parts of the world including Northern Ireland, Belize, Germany, Zimbabwe, Cyprus and Bosnia and successively commanded a regiment, a brigade and a division. His principal staff posts in the Army were as Director of Public Relations and Director of Personnel Policy. He completed his military career in the rank of major general as Commandant of Sandhurst where he was responsible for the selection and training of all officers for the British Army.
He is a governor of Marlborough College and Princess Helena College and has a strong interest in education. He is also a trustee of several military charities and a Colonel Commandant of his former regiment.
Sarah Sands' first journalistic role was as a trainee reporter on the Kent and Sussex Courier. Sands then moved to London, where she began shift work on the London Evening Standard. Sands shortly thereafter secured a staff position on the paper's "Londoner's Diary" section, which she then went on to edit. Sands remained at the Evening Standard for 10 years, during which time she rose to the position of Features Editor.
In 1995, Sands joined the Daily Telegraph as Deputy Editor and, following the departure of Charles Moore as Editor in 2004, she also took on the role of Saturday Editor. Sands took over the Editorship of the Sunday Telegraph in June 2005. Her re-launch of the title in November of that year saw the paper's sales increase by around 50,000.
Sands moved to the Daily Mail in April 2006, where she became Consultant Editor. In May 2008, Sands became Editor-in-Chief of Reader's Digest.
Sands is the author of three novels: Playing The Game; "Hothouse; and The Villa. She lives in London with her husband and her three children.
Professor Wolf is the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King's College London, as well as a visiting professorial fellow at the Institute of Education and an executive editor of the international journal Assessment in Education.
Alison Wolf is a presenter for Analysis (Radio 4) and writes regularly for a range of think tanks and for the national press, including Prospect, The Times Higher, and The Guardian. She has been a specialist adviser to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, and is a Member of Council for the United Nations University.
Her books include Does Education Matter? Myths about education and growth, and her recent (2008) publications include "Diminished Returns: how raising the school leaving age will harm young people and the economy" for Policy Exchange.