Brexit: freedom to screw up

brexit

Brexit is a mistake. It’s also an illustration that we are truly free. Free to screw up, big time. The vote was an exercise in breathtaking political irresponsibility. But it happened. No one stopped Mr Cameron. He wasn’t clapped in irons and carted off to The Tower, although he did lose his job. He was free to do what he wanted. Free to order a plebiscite that should never have taken place. Free, to force the electorate to do Parliament’s dirty work for it.

Boris Johnson was free to play fast and loose with the facts about the cost of EU membership; free to ride the coat tails of Mr Farage’s dog whistle racism. Everyone was free to compare refugees to swarming migrants. Theresa May was free to keep her head down, vote Remain but not fight for it.

To be fair to Mrs May, no one fought a Remain campaign. It was a Don’t Leave campaign. There’s a big difference. You can say to your lover “I don’t want to leave you because I will be worse off”. But it’s a far cry from saying “I want to be with you because we will be better together”.

The electorate was free to behave like children, inexplicably permitted to decide their bedtime. Free to choose the splendid isolation, as one commentator put it, of “desert island sovereignty” over the graft of managing essential relationships in a globalised economy. Free to cleave to the rich legacy of Empire without  ‘fessing up to the moral duty to share it.

The European Union mandarins and leaders were free to exude, as they say in Ireland, “the smell of burning martyr” in their incomprehension that some felt the EU was just not working; free to have failed down through the years to manage their PR effectively to avoid this outcome. Above all, free to allow the weakening of a great, if flawed, post-World War II peace process.

So, here we are living through a phony Brexit. Let’s be clear: there has been no Brexit. Just a vote. And everyone is behaving as we if we have left already. We haven’t. Oops, I’ve written “we”. What a slip. I’m an Irish migrant. I’ve lived in England for 25 years. At a recent networking event in London a man I didn’t know, with a glint in his eye, clocked my accent and asked me if I felt “they would let me stay”.  It was an unthinkable joke, even six months ago. But people are free to joke.

We won’t be leaving for another two years at least, but we are free to go if we trigger Article 50. But that’s only a nicety. I believe the PM when she says that “Brexit means Brexit”. We have already left in our hearts. The markets know it. It’s as if a decree nisi was handed down and it will take us two years to split the CDs and sell the house.

Would that the cost of the break-up was that cheap. As I write, news has broken that Lloyds Bank will shed thousands of jobs partly because of Brexit. Daily I hear of the severe negative impact of the vote. I’ve yet to read a positive story.

So, look at what we have achieved with our freedom. Witness what we have done with the liberty for which those who died in trenches fought. It’s a travesty. But bizarrely it’s also a triumph. Liberty gives us the right to decide. But it also gives us the right to make the wrong decision, if you feel it’s wrong.

If history judges Brexit to be the greatest own goal ever, what does that say about the value of freedom? Is it, as Churchill said, only two cheers for democracy? No, because the Brexit vote has exposed an inconvenient but important truth: a significant majority of people in the UK are not simply ready for globalisation.

They don’t get that globalisation is the process by which the world is becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased trade and cultural exchange. The Remain campaign failed to sell the benefits of globalisation – starting with a reformed EU – over leaving the EU. In fact, they didn’t even try.

As any rookie salesperson will tell you, the first rule of selling is to accept responsibility for the sale. The Remain campaign ignored this and every other rule in Sales 101. They went for the “assumed close”, a rare occurrence. It happens  only where the close is such a slam dunk that you don’t even have to ask for the business. They were wrong. Liberty is about the freedom to be buyers or sellers of ideas and, crucially, the right not to buy.

Ciaran

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The “mechanics of decision-making”- what #leaders can learn from The Norma Percy Tapes #archiveonfour

 

John major albert reynolds

On Radio 4’s splendid celebration this week of documentary maker Norma Percy, there was a recording of former Prime Minister John Major telling a story about the Irish peace negotiations with former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. An issue which he thought had been sorted “an hour earlier was reintroduced…I felt pretty frustrated…clenched my fist…banged the table…my pencil broke…scurried right across the table…everyone thought it was a piece of ill temper but it was sheer frustration… it may have ruined the pencil, but I think it concentrated minds”.

Albert Reynolds is recorded as confirming the story adding that he had felt strongly that there had been “bad faith” on the issue, that they both went into another room where they had a “right ding dong”, and that “some of the language used was tough”.

In a separate but related piece, former President Bill Clinton told the story of how he had gone into the Oval Office on a Saturday afternoon, after a “wonderful lunch with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl….feeling kinda crabby… [having to make a decision on granting Gerry Adams a visa to attend a peace conference]….I thought it was worth the risk…[tho’] I could be criticised…and so I did it and a lot people thought I was crazy”. Apparently the decision had a significant positive impact on the peace process.

Few in business would not identify with these stories. Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of having to deal with an issue they thought had been settled? Who has not had to face a tough decision, laden with risk, when not in the mood? Leaders face the same contexts, be they Prime Ministers or CEOs. But they also need to confront the same emotional intelligence issues.

John Major seemed to struggle with admitting he was angry. Indeed he went to great lengths to say that he was simply “frustrated”. I don’t buy this. He was mad as hell at Albert Reynolds. On the recording you can actually hear him relive the moment by banging the desk, again. The sound his fist made was loud. It takes some force to splinter a pencil. This wasn’t ill temper. It was sheer fury.

In emotional intelligence analysis terms, he struggled to connect fully with his own anger. He displayed it, but at once disowned it.  But not before the wonderfully tortuous claim that their mistake in assuming he was angry had “concentrated minds”. His concern for the pencil, a lovely twist.

Experts tell us that anger is a shallow emotion usually hiding a deeper truth. I can only guess, but for John Major the deeper truth may have been shame at being angry. Open expression of anger, or indeed any emotion, is not a core feature of English culture. His upbringing will have trained him to obey this group norm. But it will not have made the feeling “go away”, no more than Albert Reynolds pugnacious cultural background will have allowed him to connect with his hurt at what he perceived as bad faith.

I’m not blaming John Major or Albert Reynolds for their personality traits. I am merely contrasting them with the Bill Clinton story to illustrate a point, and not to cast Bill Clinton as a paragon of virtue. But the President did appear to be more “in touch” with what he felt on the day. If you listen to the broadcast I’m sure you will agree. He didn’t feel like making the decision, especially after having such a good time with Helmut Kohl over lunch. He faced into it. He felt it was the right thing to do. He decided to do it despite “the heat he would get from The State Department”.

I believe that the leaders displayed, in the telling of their stories, contrasting levels of self-awareness; that higher self-awareness leads to higher quality of decision-making and that it’s possible for leaders to improve outcomes by simply noticing more often how they feel. This practice is at the heart of mindfulness.

It was interesting that the Major/Reynolds story was about the process, the Clinton story about the outcome. It may be counter factual to argue that the pace of the peace process might have been faster had the former been more in touch with their feelings.

But what if John Major had said: “I feel very angry indeed that a matter I thought has been dealt with an hour now is now back on the table. This is unacceptable to me”. What if Albert Reynolds had replied: “I disagree, the matter was unresolved. In fact I feel very hurt indeed that you have acted in bad faith”.

Is it risible to suggest that in the dog eat dog world of business and politics that leaders might behave like this? I agree it’s a stretch. But just look at the terrible mess we are now in because of poor business and political governance. A bit of a stretch by leaders wouldn’t go amiss. And some.

Ciaran

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♯PrimeMinisterMay & CEOs: Three Essential Steps to a successful ♯First100Days

THERESA-MAY-NO-10

Step 1 Articulate a credible purpose in which you believe

Mrs. May did this yesterday, partly. She said that her objective is to create a society based on social justice. The problem is that I don’t believe her. Not that I don’t believe she believes in what he is saying but that it’s not a credible objective. She is as unlikely to achieve social justice as Mr. Cameron achieved his Big Society – whatever that was – because we all know that social justice is a woolly unachievable aspiration.

We also know that her own track record in the pursuit of social justice is mixed. What has she achieved under this heading? She may have done lots, but I don’t know about it. Indeed she is known to be tough on migrants. As a migrant myself, I find that at odds with an assertion about caring about social justice. I’m also wary of the phrase “giving us more power” over our lives. That’s’ code, in my mind, for abrogating responsibility.

It also sits uncomfortably with the fact that her new home is located in the Borough of Westminster. In some of its wards, 78% of children live in poverty (Government Indices of Multiple Deprivation). It has the third highest rate of child poverty in London and nationally (SNA Report 2014). It is one of the worst boroughs for ethic minority groups in terms of health & wellbeing (Runnymeade Report 2016). This is all on her doorstep. She has been working in that borough as Home Secretary for six years. Maybe she doesn’t know about it. But if I were setting out my stall as The Social Justice PM I would know about my starting point.

So, if you are a CEO or a function leader starting your First 100 Days make sure that your objective is as credible as it is clear. Had Mrs. May said that her objective is a 10% increase in social justice measured across seven headings then I would have been impressed. But she didn’t.

Step 2 Understand that strategy is a simple word meaning “how”

Strategy, one of the most misused words in the English language, means “how” you achieve your objective. Michael O’Leary’s strategy was to annoy customers so much that they expected nothing more than a safe flight. He succeeded. Pure genius, as the Guinness people love to say. On this analysis Mrs. May was notably silent on the issue of how, precisely, she is going to achieve social justice. If she has one and didn’t tell us, then I worry why. If she hasn’t, then I just worry.

So, I strongly advise you never to articulate an objective without declaring a credible strategy to achieve it. There’s that “c-word” again. Credibility. It’s important. But I have sympathy with leaders who have difficulties formulating their strategy. This is acceptable provided you admit that your current strategy is to find strategy. What isn’t advisable is to have no articulated strategy. She hasn’t.

Step 3 Outline a plan to implement your strategy, and stick to it

Whilst plans are lists of actions to be taken by people to deadlines, they also reflect decisions on agreed behaviour. The most important behaviour Mrs. May has to illustrate in her first hundred days is her ability to create an environment in which her team can thrive in the implementation of the strategy to achieve the credible objective. This includes her behaviour in making appointments.

Already, on Day 1, she has illustrated that she doesn’t yet fully understand the importance of this step in the appointment of Mr. Johnson as Foreign Secretary. We know she doesn’t trust him. So she must be setting him up for a fall, as he will. That may cause mirth but it will be very serious for us all. Mr. Davis’ appointment as Head of Brexit is also worrying. She should do that job. But how can she? She voted Remain. But maybe she didn’t mean that. If so, she’s not credible and her first hundred days will end in tears.

Ciaran

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The #Tory leadership process will end in tears, again, because none of the candidates tick all the #Leadership101 boxes…

conservative leadership candidates

…because no job specification was written. No formal interview process took place. There was no assessment of how the candidates’ leadership skills match the requirements of the role, before the shortlist was finalised. All the leadership hopefuls had to do was to “put their names forward”, assert why they were the best, and await the votes.

You may laugh out loud at the idea that the process could, given custom and practice, be any different or similar in any way to the appointment of a CEO, not that these are perfect processes always either. What if it were?  What if The Chairman of the 1922 Committee had asked my advice? I would have advised that they publish a job description:

Prime Minister Wanted, Immediately

Essential: candidates must demonstrate, rather than assert, that they

  • can articulate and communicate a manifesto for the country, in which they truly believe, post-Brexit vote
  • can formulate a credible strategy to achieve it
  • can formulate a plan and create an environment in which people can do their best work to implement it, in line with the strategy

And what if that list had applied to the appointment of Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn or to any other major leader in the country? None would have been appointed because they don’t and didn’t come anywhere near “ticking all the boxes”.

The two front runners in the Tory leadership campaign have not advanced a vision, strategy or plan. I say now, that if Mrs. May is elected, and I agree that she looks like the strongest candidate, it will all end in tears. Being tough and hard working isn’t enough. She will need to demonstrate a willingness to acknowledge her own development needs as a leader and be ready to grow into the role. As yet, there is no evidence that she has that level of emotional intelligence.

She and all political leaders should be forced to undergo Leasdership101 training – apparently there is a very good Civil Service Leadership Programme. Why not make them do that? But that won’t happen and sadly, there will be a major issue and she will fall back onto her comfort zone behaviour, as Mr. Blair did, and all will suffer.

But she and he were merely players in a process that everyone supported. Mr. Blair is rightly in the dock over his behaviour. But what about those who appointed him and created a system allowing it? The same can be said for Jeremy Corbyn.

He’s a man with a strong social conscience but manifestly not a leader. I don’t care what support he has from rank and file members and yes, he is technically right on that score, but he does not tick all the boxes above. He must create an environment in which his Parliamentary Party can thrive, whether he likes them or not. CEOs don’t have to love all their Board members. But they must help them thrive.

I don’t know enough about the other front runner to comment but, so far, she doesn’t tick the boxes either. Nor did Mr. Johnson nor Mr. Gove nor the other two runners. So what am I suggesting?

Well, where was the succession planning? Surely there must be someone with leadership potential amongst the hundreds of Conservative MPs?  But until there is a new process which puts in place a system that nurtures the  best leaders, not just the strongest personalities, then the future is bleak in politics.

But you can do something about this today in your organisation. Put in place a robust leadership, succession planning, and appointment process. It will be painful, because the loudest won’t like it, but it will be worth it.

Ciaran

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Business leaders should heed #chilcot criticism of “sofa” style decision-making…

businessman on sofa

…because we all know that the leadership and management errors he identified occur daily in organisations, albeit with less catastrophic implications. The behaviour in our Board rooms, Executive Committees, Trusts and Boards of Governors, and of course Cabinets, matter.

The Chilcot Inquiry criticism of “sofa” style decision-making is a grim reminder of the importance of good corporate governance that encourages challenge by dissenters. But how many leaders are emotionally equipped to encourage this?

How may times are decisions “a stitch up”? One chilling story on this topic: a member of a notoriously tough ExCom told me many years ago that “you can always tell who the new people are at ExCom meetings”. “How’s that”, I asked.  “They’re smiling” he said. “They sure as hell stop smiling after their first public slap”. No one would dare to “call out” anything or to disagree in that environment.

So, what’s to be done?  Well it’s back to Leadership101: a need for old fashioned meetings with an agenda, motions, pros and cons discussions, formal “Devil’s Advocates” in the room, votes or, at least, shows of hands and above all, Minutes written after, and not drafted before, the meeting.

The problem with this Utopian view is that the very personality traits that propel some leaders to the top are the ones which will prevent them from changing behaviour  to accommodate dissent.  But there is a chink of light here: apart form utter psychopaths – and I acknowledge that a few of these stalk the corridors of corporate power – most dysfunctional leaders are merely playing out, as the experts tell us, behaviour patterns established in their formative years.

So, if they can be brought to see that even small changes in behaviour – e.g.  listening to a contrary view just 10 times out of every hundred is only 10% behavioural change – can lead to improved outcomes for them, then they may be incentivised to change.

But there needs to be another incentivising element present: fear. The law must be changed to prevent key decisions in organisations being made without due process. A combination of carrot – incentives to change behaviour, and stick – fear of an orange jump suit at worst, or severe censure at best, might do the trick.

But if we do not face up to these issues now there will be need for another Chilcot Inquiry in a few years time and the unconscious, or sometimes not so unconscious, thuggery which dominates some of our Boards, ExComs and Cabinets will continue unchallenged.

Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

Ciaran

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