Real leadership – is this what’s on offer?

With the issue of Brexit trundling along it raises the question of “is this real leadership?”

The parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall on Monday 5 September rambled all over the place when considering a petition for a second referendum once the terms of Brexit are known. Many of the excuses for withholding a further reference to the people were based on some idea of democracy in action. That idea varied according to the speaker and there was no apparent consistency both with previous decisions in the UK or elsewhere. On reflection that gave me pause to consider the parallels with many organisations.

Leadership – if it is to be successful – needs to communicate clearly with those being led. There has to be a well-described vision of where they are going and why. More to the point the leaders need to establish trust amongst their followers. In addition they need to be confident in their approach. Style is also important. Change requires innovation and people who are good at it. At this point I thought a little compare and contrast might be in order:-

  • It is obvious that the present political leadership aren’t confident about their approach – at least not yet. So how might that confidence be gained? Personally I think there should be a verifiable goal with clear outcomes.
  • Unfortunately there is still no clear vision of where the UK is trying to get to other than out. Is that out of the frying pan into the fire? Or is it out of a (supposed) straitjacket and into a new-found freedom? Access to the Single Market? No free movement of EU people into the UK? The messages are contradictory, especially when viewed against the known position of the EU itself.
  • The more that parliamentarians try and fudge the issue the more uncertainty they create. That fails the leadership test. They would be better served by standing back and designing the approach they are going to take whilst at the same time informing the electorate of just what that will mean. As things stand we still don’t know who is making decisions about what or why? It is merely a scramble to appear to be Brexiting – no doubt to appease the Leave Campaigners. However real leadership isn’t about appeasement. There is an approach being developed but what that is has not been coherent so far.
  • Lying about the expected outcomes – such as the promises on financing of the NHS out of savings that were made during the campaign – has meant that there was a substantial breach of trust. Real leadership within an organisation will make certain at outset that they establish and maintain trust. To re-establish trust that has been lost requires leadership of the highest order. That involves a good degree of humility and openness.
  • Do we have the right mix of innovation and restraint at the top? I don’t see enough evidence right now to be clear about this. However I don’t expect to see a bold step to do things differently. Muddle through is the most likely scenario.
  • Bad leadership should not be used to cover up previous bad leadership. We are in this mess due to a failure of leadership by a previous Prime Minister. Continuing to build on that very shaky foundation is a recipe for disaster. How many times have organisations backed themselves into a corner rather than stopping to reconsider. (In this instance that doesn’t mean reversing the Referendum outcome but rather making sure that from here on things are done properly.)

So where does that leave us? Currently we’re still looking for some real leadership and, while we wait, confidence in the current systems continues to ebb away. The damage is insidious and long-lasting. It is going to take a great leader to turn things around.

If this was your organisation what would you do? Who would you engage with and why? What is your leadeship style? Is it appropriate for the task in hand?