Lessons on leadership from British politics

“The UK is in a spectacular mess,” writes Martin Wolf in the Financial Times today.

Why? Because “David Cameron launched an unnecessary referendum on EU membership” in order to pacify a minority in his own party and Theresa May then compounded that mistake by “by destroying her political position.”

The UK is in a “spectacular mess” because of its leadership, or rather its lack of leadership.

What does this mean? What would good leadership look like?

The clue comes in a recent interview given by Theresa May. When asked how she was feeling (“Shellshocked perhaps?”) she replied not with a description of how she was feeling but with yet another a campaign slogan: “I am feeling that there is a job to be done and I think what the public want is to ensure that the government is getting on with that job.”

This was a pattern that had been repeated throughout the election campaign. Whenever Mrs May was asked a question she came back with a pre-prepared answer or a slogan, such as “strong and stable,” “Brexit means Brexit,” “coalition of chaos,” and so on. Rote learning like this might be good for passing tests at school but it is no good for leading a country in a changing world.

Rote learning like this can be good for passing tests at school but it is no good for leading a country in a changing world.

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn answered questions from the heart. We might not always agree with what he said, but the point is that Corbyn has thought through what his views are and formed an integrated opinion of them. He is able to answer any question, not simply pump out slogans created by committee.

This chart shows how people responded to this during the two months leading up to the election, when polling rules forced the media to give fairer and more balanced reporting of what politicians actually said rather than journalists’ interpretations of that. The red line shows how people responded to Corbyn’s approach:

Source: Wikipedia

Yes he did not win the election. But my point is that under his leadership style his position is improving, whereas David Cameron and Theresa May’s approach is worsening theirs.

In France, Emmanuel Macron has also said, “This is what I believe in. This is where I want us to go.” The party that shares his initials, En Marche!, was formed only in 2016. Out of nowhere it has won an election landslide and he has become President of France.

Only time will tell how the different world-views of our leaders turn out to match reality. But in a churning world there is no one, single, pre-determined future. There is only what we can inspire other people to help us make happen. For that, speaking from the heart is a better approach than learning soundbites.

Leadership begins when we come to know and accept ourselves. When we can answer the question, “How do you feel about…?” Then we can start to lead ourselves (and others) in that direction, because that is what we believe in, that is who we are. We have an inner compass. We know what is negotiable and what is not negotiable.

When we don’t do this then everything becomes negotiable. We become vulnerable to the pressure of minority groups within our own party who want a vote on Brexit. We call elections we don’t need because we feel weak and wobbly. We find ourselves doing deals with extreme minority parties such as the DUP, simply to cling to the appearance of power, while the reality, as so many people have said, is that Mrs May is a “dead woman walking” and the UK is now “in a spectacular mess.” To deny reality is a failure of leadership.

Step One of Inner Leadership is to centre, ground, and connect deeply with who we are and what we care about. Step Five is to summarise that as a set of purpose and values.

Step 3 is to identify alternative ways of putting that into practice. Step Four is to choose the one that is best for us now. And Step Six is to describe all that in a way that inspires us and others to want to make it happen.

Leave a Reply