We are back with the Brexit melodrama monologue, and this week, we delve into matters leadership. And whose leadership style is under the spotlight? Of course, that of the lady that has steered Brexit negotiations till now, Theresa May (TM for purposes of this blog).
Leaders that have managed crises involving deep stakeholder polarisation understand the pressure and frustration that arise from such a situation. It makes leadership a very lonely and, to some leaders, impossible job. Why? Because leaders are supposed to coalesce others around a shared vision – and it’s not far fetched to write on this blog that perhaps, bringing the people you lead with you, is the number one job of a leader. While it’s true that leaders can’t win over everyone, they need a good number of those they boss, if not the majority, to buy into their vision. Without the latter, a leader would be presiding over a divided team, the end result of which, we all know.
And the above is the exact situation that TM finds herself in – the divisions amongst the conservative party stalwarts are so deep, at times acrimonious, that TM recently announced her resignation as leader of the Tory party and soon, prime minister. She simply couldn’t do her job – she didn’t have followers, or enough of them, to give her the oomph needed to lead effectively, during this critical time for both country and party.
Since the Effectiveness lab is an apolitical platform, this blog focuses on the leadership aspects of Brexit and not the polity of the Master. And on the latter note, we ask the question: ‘why has TM failed at coalescing her party around a common vision?’ What do we learn from the experience?
Political and management analysts have referred to TM’s leadership of Brexit as a classic case study of ‘bad leadership in practice’
So – where did TM start, and how did it go so wrong? To answer the latter questions – we need to go back to how TM became Prime minister. In time, it’s good for leaders to look back and reflect on how they became leaders – such introspection holds answers about the causes of failed leadership. At least it does in the case of TM.
Apparently, ‘chance’ handed TM the top job in the UK. Analysts have alluded, albeit cryptically, that TM didn’t necessarily have what it takes to do the job – but was lucky at the time. Indeed, the long and short is: post the 2016 EU referendum, there was so much infighting amongst the shortlisted candidates for the party leadership; things turned so nasty that political-friends turned foe against party peers in the leadership race, political partnerships fell apart, with some candidates suffering political wounds that will take long to heal.
Yet, as all this squabbling took place amongst the top party hierarchy, TM remained calm and in the process, presented herself as the saner one amongst the lot – and she, on that basis, got in as party leader and prime minister. That easy – TM was in the right place at the right time.
We have to ask what could have happened if TM’s rivals had remained focused on the task at hand – and only put the individual case for being elected party leader – and let the system judge who was best suited for the job.
Anyway, TM got in and has been PM till her emotional resignation a few days ago
What failed TM?
- TM was never going to be able to get the full trust of the Brexiteers, as she voted to remain in the EU. She was in effect enforcing a decision and philosophy that she didn’t believe in.
Lesson one – don’t captain a ship steering in a direction you don’t believe in
- Leadership in such circumstances calls for more than the mundane. Did TM have the savvy to pull off all the brinkmanship and adaptability required to deliver Brexit? Those that have evaluated her in this area have rated her wanting. Not adaptable enough – gave away too much to the opposing side
Lesson two – Always conduct a reflection/review of the circumstances leading to your appointment to a specific job; critically review the rigour of the appointing process, whether the appointing authority missed skills-gaps that you know you have but are critical to success in a specific job. For example,
- And last – TM wanted to appease the Brexiteers, the majority holders at the referendum, but also the remainers and their EU well-wishers. The results was a botched and unclear Brexit strategy – confusion – that has left the party and nation, and we must add, democracy, wounded
Lesson three – you can’t be everything to everyone; appeasement won’t bet get you far.
To you leaders: lead purposefully; don’t set up yourself to fail by accepting a job that you can’t do; and finally, be clear on the direction you want the institution you are leading to take – don’t appease.
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