My advice to Boris…

So, what can we all learn about leadership from the Referendum that we can usefully use in our organisations? What behaviour did we observe that we should avoid? What advice would I give to Boris if he were a client or to you, if you were a client about to seek a leadership position?

Well, in simple terms – Boris and Nigel won, and David and Jeremy lost. That at least, is what you could be forgiven for thinking.  In truth, they all won because none of them was really committed fully to Europe in the first place. And they all lost because they created a terrible mess. The lesson therefore is: unless you have a clear purpose, strategy and behaviour plan – what I call PSB – you will lose, even if you look like you’ve won. Their purposes were far from pure; their strategies were consequently flawed and their execution plans and behaviour were appalling.

But Mr. Johnson is likely to become Prime Minister or if not, he will almost certainly be close to power. But he shouldn’t kid himself. He has led no one anywhere. He influenced the voters; he didn’t lead them. There’s a big difference. And on current form I predict that if he does become PM, it will end in tears. He shows no aptitude for leadership. My advice is: don’t do it unless you are willing to change. I gave Mr. Cameron the same advice in my May 2015 newsletter. He mustn’t have read it.

To be successful you need to create an environment in which others thrive in the service of a shared purpose. You have to care, genuinely. Frankly, it appears to many, that he doesn’t give a damn. After the vote Janan Ganesh wrote in the FT that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove wore “…the haunted look of jokers at an auction whose playfully exorbitant bid for a vase had just been accepted with a chilling smash of the gavel”.

But what if Boris came to me and said “Ciaran, I desperately want to be a great Prime Minister like Winston Churchill. I know I can do it. In fact I was born to it. I’m extremely bright and all that joker stuff is just an act. But I need to ensure that I don’t trip up. I hear you’re a jolly good adviser so what do you say, eh?”

I would design for him a tailored three step Programme:

Step 1 Reflection: where am I now and why? Where am I going and how?

Boris is where he is, like all of us, because of his formative years. According to the experts, we all took decisions during those years as best we could in response to the environment and events, good and bad, that we experienced as young children and teenagers. The problem, we’re told, is that we continue to behave as if those stimuli still exist, when they don’t. A reader of Sonia Purnell’s biography of Boris requires no training in Freudian analysis to guess at the genesis of some of his current behaviour – serious deafness until he was eight, divorced parents and brutal experiences at school. How did he cope? In leadership terms, it’s got to do with Emotional Intelligence, a chief component of which is self-awareness. Are you aware of your behaviour and where it comes from?  And why you are where you are in your career. Were you the bully or the bullied or somewhere in between?

So, I would find out if Boris has low or high EI in terms of self awareness and if he was willing to make small changes in his behaviour or, as the experts say, “re-decide” how to behave in the light of new contexts. This might sound like psychobabble to some but even Boris himself “attributes his ‘evasiveness’…to not being able to hear [at that early age]…and fearing he might say the wrong thing….”. So clearly he is connected to these issues. The question for him and any leader is: what do I want to achieve for whom and why; am I wiling to make the necessary changes in my behaviour to achieve it? If the answer is yes, then Boris could surprise us all and out Churchill, Churchill. If not, he should back out now.

Steps 2 and 3 to follow in my next blog post