Sunday, 23 September 2018

Leadership In Action or Leadership Inaction - What All Leaders Can Learn From Brexit

Hi Everyone

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In my day job, I'm a Learning and Development Manager. As part of this, I get to do Leadership training, and leadership is a subject that I LOVE and could discuss probably for 22 hours straight without drawing breath.  It's a subject I'm passionate about, and I love learning about it (it's one of the main reasons I'm such a fan of 5 Live Sport).

Leadership is so many things.  At its best, it should be effortless. At its worst, it makes people feel like fleas trapped in a jam jar.   As the Brexit mess unfolds around us, week by week, day by day, it gives us many many lessons on what leadership is, and what it isn't.

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VISION.   This is where leadership starts.  If you don't know where to point the bus, you're fucked.  How do you know which direction to drive in?  How will people know whether to hop on board?   How will you know when you get there?

This is the main leadership problem Brexit gives us.  NO ONE - literally no one - knows what Brexit means.   No one can define what it looks like, where it is, how we get there or whether it's worth getting there, and this is why everything is such a mess.  For 2 years we've discussed Brexit with no idea of what it means.  No one is passionately championing it and campaigning for it, and telling us how awesome it's going to be.  BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS. 

Equally, no one is challenging the Government with a better solution.  It's oh so easy to be a critic, but no one is saying "this would work better". Why?   Because no one has a clue.

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PEOPLE POWER.   The best leaders are consultative.  Rather than dictating, they invite the views of their teams, and involve them in change.  A little bit like we did with the Brexit referendum.  Little bit.   Most leaders worth their salt know which is their preferred solution, and although they're happy to have the debate and inspire ideas, they know where they're trying to get to (vision, see above).

We gave the British people a referendum with precious little facts, absolutely no vision, no definition of what Brexit would mean to each and every one of us (or that there could be 2 types of Brexit for fuck's sake), and a smug assumption people would vote to remain.  When Britain voted to Leave, the Government didn't have a clue what to do.

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Because they hadn't PREPARED (Leadership point number 3).   You've got to know your stuff, your stats, your people, your PLAN.   It's the old chestnut - fail to prepare, prepare to fail.  We didn't prepare for Brexit because no one thought it would happen.   We failed to prepare and ... oh wow, guess what, we're failing.  (Although why this should surprise us in a country that year after year fails to prepare for snow is anyone's guess).

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THE LEADER.    When the going gets tough, keep going, said Winston Churchill.  To be fair, Theresa May DOES keep going, but whether through choice or because she's been replaced by a robot is unclear.  Leaders need to have vision, charisma, influencing skills and be straight talking.   None of these are really in Theresa's kit bag.   To be fair, she went for the bold (and I believe right) move when she called a general election to strengthen her position.   Ironically, because of a lack of general leadership skills, she failed.   And here we are.

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TEAMWORK makes the dream work.   Teams should be hard-working, focussed on a common goal and committed to helping each other get there, come what may.  Does that sound like our Government?   No.   They are self-centred individuals with only 1 agenda - themselves.

This gives us 2 problems.   To elevate themselves, they criticise their leader (a Teamwork 101 no-no).   But, they refuse to present a better solution (because they don't have one).  They are critical, but not constructive.   These are the worst type of arseholes to work with.  The toxic people who poison everything and contribute nothing.  The people who turn up, but don't really show up.   None of these people has anything visionary to say and even if they did, they probably lack the balls to do it - their preferred strategy is to wait around for May to fall on her sword and then swoop in with a magnificent thrust of "I told you so".

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So we have no leadership, no vision, no plan, no team. Worse, we are following through on a decision made by the uneducated masses - and I don't mean that the British people are thick, just that no-one gave us the right information to vote on.   No one had hard facts that showed whether Brexit was a great or disastrous idea for our country because our politicians were too smug and confident to think anything would really happen.  If that doesn't spell recipe for disaster, then I don't know what does.

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So what do we do?  Well in business you wouldn't keep pursuing blindly something that made no sense and that you didn't even want.  We should have done our analysis - IS Brexit good for the country? - and THEN asked the people for their opinion.   With categorical proof that it was the RIGHT THING TO DO, pretty much any leader could have got it over the line.

I am agog that we have wasted 2 years to get nowhere.  If it were my business, I would pull the plug and sack the Project Manager.   I might retain an open mind as to whether it was still a good idea - but I would need convincing, via facts and figures.   

Sometimes, politicians are so consumed with themselves that they forget why they are there in the first place - FOR US.   They HAVE to do what is right for us.   If they are not convinced it is the right thing, they need to stand up and shout and stop the madness, not just flounce off in a sulk.   We demand integrity from our politicians, and more than anything, Brexit has revealed how painfully lacking they are.

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If you want to know how to set a goal, and lead a team and a project to get there, don't look at Brexit.   Look at what Sir Alex did at Manchester United, look at Apple, or UK Cycling.   Or, look at our Government and LEARN from what's going wrong and make damn sure it doesn't happen in YOUR business.  

Musicians and writers will always tell you that the best songs, the best poems, the best ideas, they write themselves.  They're effortless.   It FLOWS.   It's fun!!   Nothing THIS painful is ever good.   And if we ignore the pain now, and plough on, that doesn't make us strong and heroic, it makes us closed-minded and committed to stupidity.

Brexit - you've been illuminating, but I hope one day you're just an "almost happened" footnote, rather than a reality.

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