The recent UK election has given us a rich seam of learning points that we can use to become better leaders. This can be achieved largely by NOT following the example of Prime Minister May and her cabinet ministers.
The reason given for the recent snap election was to strengthen Mrs May’s hand in the Brexit negotiations with the European Union under her ‘strong and stable’ leadership.
The result was the opposite.
She had no mandate from the British public for her ‘hard Brexit’ of exiting the single market and customs union, and no majority in parliament for anything.
The Labour opposition under Jeremy Corbyn increased its share of the vote and the number of its MPs. Although Labour campaigned on a similar platform of exiting the EU, it did so without being strident on immigration controls, or adopting a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.
Labour also appealed hugely to young people (69% of under-40s voted Labour, 78% of the over-60s voted Conservative).
Mrs May is now anything but ‘strong and stable’. She is being forced to listen to voices such as her Chancellor Philip Hammond who want a softer deal with the EU. She also has to make an awkward and risky alliance with the 10-member DUP party of Northern Ireland to pass legislation. Her political days seem numbered.
So what are the leadership lessons that the UK election has shown us that have led to this volatile and unpredictable outcome?
There are quite a number.
BEING STRONG IS NOT ENOUGH – REACH OUT
In any effective negotiation or when building a new relationship, it’s not enough to project a ‘strong’ image. This is true whether you’re discussing a new contract, working with members of a virtual team, or making contacts in an unfamiliar market.
You have to reach out and make a committed effort to relate, empathise, explore.
The shy and stubborn Mrs May has done little of that in Europe – and nor have her ministers.
Her chief aide, Nick Timothy (since resigned) flatly refused to take trips to Europe to build up contacts for the PM. Even her minister for Europe, David Davis, has done little of it.
Apart from her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, speaking a little cod-French or -German on occasion (slightly mockingly), there is no sign of any European relationship-building at all.
Anyone working in international business or with a mixed-background team at home knows that trust and respect are paramount.
Simply irritating prospective partners – as Mrs May did with her public declaration outside No.10 that recent EU visitors to dinner were ‘trying to interfere in the elections’ – does not build trust.
There are 27 member states of the European Union. If the UK government doesn’t reach out and make friends, there will be 27 ‘blockers’ of the kind of Brexit deal the UK is aiming for (which is currently as clear as mud).
The lack of a firm goal is even more reason to show flexibility, imagination and – yes – good old fashioned charm to prospective partners.
Mrs May should charm premiers, send ministers to make friends, talk to diplomats, develop networks, show cultural interest, give interviews to European broadcasters and press.
Reaching out does not mean a half-hearted, embarrassingly late attempt to join in a Mexican wave at an England vs France football match (although the gesture was symbolic).
Strength means flexibility and warmth, not stubbornness or half-hearted gestures.
If Mrs May’s government does not learn the importance of reaching out, the negotiations with the EU will become very bitter and twisted over the next 18 months.
There’s more about helping your team become better at collaboration here: http://davidcliveprice.com/global-leadership-lessons-from-brexit/
TO INFLUENCE OTHERS – LISTEN & LEARN
The second lesson is that if you want to win over an electorate or community or team, you have to listen and learn from the whole group. It’s not enough to aim all your communications at one section of the ‘team’ – such as those most like yourselves.
The “youthquake” was a key component of Corbyn’s 10-point advance in Labour’s share of the vote. Turnout among under-35s rose by 12 points compared with the 2015 election, to 56%. Nearly two-thirds of younger voters backed Labour, with Brexit being their main concern.
Younger people flooded to Jeremy Corbyn’s large rallies in much the same way at they did to Bernie Sanders’ rallies in the US Democratic presidential primaries.
Jeremy Corbyn offered a message of optimism, hope, upsetting the establishment, together with hand-outs like abolishing tuition fees.
By comparison, Mrs May came over as wooden, unapproachable (Corbyn is older than Mrs May), tight-fisted and dull.
In other words, it wasn’t the age factor so much as the perception of having a closed mentality that counted for the young.
In business in these changing times, the leaders who truly succeed are those who can engage with people who may seem different to them.
Those differences may include generation, culture, background, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
In ‘Bamboo Strong: Cultural Intelligence Secrets’ I cite the case of a multinational changing its Chinese promotion policy when Hong Kong returned to China.
Being adaptive and working with diversity is something you need to plan, anticipate and practice for. The good news is that it’s a learnable skill – and there’s a global mindset toolkit.
You can find out more about the multinational (and the toolkit) in this free audio sample of ‘Bamboo Strong: Cultural Intelligence Secrets’:
Politicians, managers, aspiring leaders and team players of every description are welcome to check it out.
The problem is not that we have leaders who fail to understand the practice of leadership. It is that they fail to practice their understanding of leadership.
If the UK government wants to lead the UK to a successful departure from the European Union, it needs to truly engage with difference and its European partners.
Otherwise, the road to Brexit will be a long and painful one
Working in global markets or with (virtual) multicultural teams? Apply for a no obligation 30-minute Global Business Coaching Session with me via Skype and obtain your Global Mindset Toolkit and Action Plan.
Examples from the recent UK, Europe and US elections are included in our ‘Changing Times and Intelligent Leadership Masterclass‘, 16:30 – 20:00 pm on Thursday 7th July at London Bloomsbury Gallery.
For tickets for this unique event and further information, Click Here.