Our inboxes and feeds have been filled with emotional responses to our leaders and Brexit. The result took everyone by surprise – even the leaders who planned it all, but then failed to have a follow up plan for the outcome, they didn’t expect. From a risk management point of view, this beggar’s belief. The only conclusion we can reach is that the people driving the bus were without a route map because they were complacent (thought the destination was a foregone conclusion and therefore didn’t use a satnav), or consumed with self-interest (didn’t really care where the destination was as long as they ended up in the front seat).
It has been said that you get the leader you deserve. If this is so, what does this say about us in the UK, and what sort of leaders will we deserve going forward?
There have been many theories about the qualities needed for effective, ethical leaders. With Brexit in mind, let’s compare the country with a theoretical company and consider what the Corporate world thinks makes a good leader versus the qualities displayed by those who got us to where we are now.
For clarity we will use a popular leadership article published by Forbes in 2012. It lists 10 characteristics that the author deemed essential for effective leaders:
- Honesty – because honest, ethical behaviour engenders trust and models ethics for employees
- Delegation – trusting your team because you know them and can let them run some jobs while you focus on the bigger picture
- Communication – Clear and effective communication so that your team know exactly what you want to get done
- Confidence – staying clam under pressure keeps the team calm and moving forward positively
- Commitment – working as hard as your team and leading by example
- Positive Attitude – attitude it contagious. If you sow fear and loathing you get fear and loathing in return. If you exude a positive attitude in the face of bumps in the road, the team will treat them just as positively
- Creativity – just looking at the easiest way out of a difficult situation is not necessarily going to give you the result you want. Looking at problems differently will usually get better results
- Intuition – being able to predict bumps in the road will make them that much less of a problem
- Inspire – the ability to bring your people up with you and inspire them with your vision of the future. Also to recognise their hard work and their contribution to the company, inspires them to work harder
- Approach – the ability to recognise that everyone responds differently and to adapt your approach so they are included
How our leaders shaped up during Brexit
In the aftermath of the referendum, it is clear that none of the political leaders is a standout front runner imbued with even a majorityof these qualities. Without a doubt, the Leave campaign including the UKIP leadership, had Communication well in hand. They certainly knew how to broadcast their messages with volume and reach. Their campaign was based on where they would spend the EU money (on the NHS), how immigrants are a threat and should be stopped, and how Britain needs its independence from Europe. Unfortunately, as we now know, none of these promises can be kept. On the day after the vote, the UKIP leaders stated:
- that spending the EU money on the NHS was not going to happen. Despite it being emblazoned on their campaign bus, it was just a possibility
- that they cannot actually stop immigration
- and let’s face it, there is no such thing as complete independence when you are an island and you have to have trade agreements with your neighbours
Honesty was the sacrificial lamb in this case, along with a positive attitude and approach , with incidents of racism and xenophobia happening around the country just hours after the results came out and apparently none of these leaders speaking out against it.
The Conservative Party did warn of financial consequences, but I am pretty sure they didn’t predict the pound reaching a 31 year low within 24 hours of the results. David Cameron, who started this whole thing as a politically expedient move to shut up dissenters before the 2015 elections, showed a lack of commitment, intuition and approach by choosing this option. He was gambling the future of the country on one vote with very little thought of campaigning about the good that the EU has brought to Britain. He did get some concessions from the EU, but complicated agreements mean nothing when the opposition are engaged in political fear mongering. The leave campaign definitely drowned him out with their shouting. So there was a fail mark on communication, intuition and definitely on the ability to inspire. Boris scored an outright fail on honesty and intuition – no need to go into the reasons again here.
The Labour Party has been equally divided with mass resignations from the shadow cabinet and a loss of confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn. With Cameron resigning, showing a lack of commitment to finding the best possible solution, and Corbyn being challenged, the leadership of the country is focussed on elbowing each other out of the way in a bid of the top job, with no one actually reassuring the country or having a plan to haul Britain out of this hole. This is a commitment, creativity, inspiration and communications fail by all parties.
From a management performance point of view, it’s a pretty dismal display. We need to create a new model – one that we believe will lead this country through the bumps. Our leaders will have to help us dance between the raindrops until the storms subside. To do this we need proper risk management – a plan for all possible outcomes. We need honesty – we have to be able to believe what our leaders tell us so they must be prepared to back up their claims. We need leaders with strong communication skills and the ability to inspire the country to look forward and pull together. We need creativity – our leaders needs to think differently to get out of this mess. Collectively, we need to consider new solutions that fit our needs. And finally, we need leaders with an approach that is open and inclusive. If we are going to extinguish the blaze of racism that this referendum result has lit, we need leaders who will not tolerate any display of hatred and negativity towards others just because they are different.
And if we want this to be the sort of leader we deserve, it has to start with us. We must aspire to exemplifying these qualities ourselves, and we need to hold our leaders accountable for a high level of performance. The ethos of complacency and self-serving actions underpinning the behaviour of the leaders of this referendum is toxic and should not be entertained.
Consider a performance review:
- what score would our current leaders be awarded? (I’d say its below the ‘needs development level’)
- what scores do we expect, dare I say demand, from our future leaders?
- And finally, where do we think we score on these characteristics? We will need them to give us the edge to get through this.
It starts with us!