It is well known that before a leader ascends to power they have to have permission from those they lead to become the leader. The problem with Mrs May was that she ascended to power and Prime Ministerial-ship without the permission of the majority of the nation. She was afforded the position of Prime Minister by her own party as a safe pair of hands to negotiate a difficult Brexit. She did not have a mandate of the nation to lead the country through a challenging period.
The critical mistake she made was to lead before she had permission to. Talking about a hard Brexit, the future of Social Care before she had truly been accepted by the majority of the nation. Leaders can only lead in such an authoritative manner once they have been accepted and proven themselves as credible leaders to those they lead. Mrs May’s record in the Home Office was one of robust safe leadership it was not one of innovation and imagination. Much more about the status quo than the punk revolution. She needed to adopt a consultative and inclusive leadership style in order to gain trust and acceptance before she could start to truly lead.
Power to lead
However, when the shackles were off and she felt she was in a position of power as Prime Minister, she tried to move towards an authoritarian style through enlightened despotism and social revolution. “Hard Brexit” our way without Europe; “no deal better than a bad deal”; dementia tax and little support for youth or to appease a critical and interested audience that had yet to accept her as a leader, let alone accept her new style of leadership.
She operated with her advisors in isolation, introducing things to the manifesto with little consultation. She was perceived to be arrogant as a result of her reluctance to engage in public debate or to even engage with the general public. She appeared to be a leader out of touch with her remit; an imposter trying to lead with authority using yesterday’s rules. Compassion was absent and empathy missing a leader out of touch with those she lead.
Before being accepted as a leader there are a few key lateral leadership practices that a new leader should undertake to establish their position.
Networking. Building presence through networking with individuals of influence that play a part in a leader’s role. So creating connections and familiarity that enable future access when necessary.
Constructive persuasion and negotiation. This is all part of a new leader’s ability to motivate and influence those around them and practice makes perfect!
Consultation. Helping others to achieve what they want is a very sound way of building allegiances and loyalty. It builds trust, shows competence and creates allegiances.
Coalition building. Mutual support is key to a new leader’s power and the ability to draw on others for support when under challenge will come directly from such coalitions. The more you have the stronger your leadership base is.
Lessons for leaders in Business:
Being authentic as a leader in my view is one of the key attributes if you want to inspire, motivate and get others to follow you. Adopt a leadership brand that is natural to you and use a style that suits and fits the current environment. Let your followers see your true brand; the real you as if you try to be someone you are not you will be quickly found out. Being authentic and natural in one’s leadership is vital but if it is the wrong leadership style for the situation then one must adapt that style.
Pick your advisors carefully. Make sure there is the diversity within the team to cover all the essential areas but also to challenge thinking and bias. A team of advisors are there for advising the leader not making the calls for a leader; so once they have been heard they must trust and adhere to the decisions of the leader.
Building Trust and Presence
A leader needs allies in order to create presence and reinforce messages. They also need allies when their leadership is challenged. Autocratic leadership can lead to a substantial fall. After all “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton. Great leaders spend time building both trust and presence so that they can be challenged and survive.
Leaders need to know how to lead in the prevailing environment, but they need to be accepted before they can begin to lead.
Jeremy Corbyn was inclusive and had been accepted by the majority of the members of the Labour Party prior to the election, therefore his leadership mandate was far stronger than Theresa May’s. His campaign message was inclusive and considerate; coherent and credible offering something for everyone, however, unaffordable it was.