An hour is a long time in politics these days, judging by the events of the last week or so since the announcement of the EU Referendum results. Whether you were a Leaver or a Remainer, the continuing turmoil engulfing our political leadership is unprecedented and highlights some key lessons for anyone seeking to lead others.
Even in the run-up to the vote, the tactics adopted by both sides left a lot to be desired in terms of professionalism, not least because of the lack of understanding both exhibited about the impact of their actions. And at the same time they demonstrated a level of disengagement with great swathes of potential voters that was breathtaking and illustrates just how out of touch our political elite have become with those who vote them into (or more likely out of) government.
Trust is a critically important component of leadership – if people don’t believe what you are telling them, then they have no confidence in the direction of travel and ultimately won’t be motivated to support you or the decisions you take. Over the past decade many people have fallen out of love with big organisations whether political or commercial, and the rise of the citizen journalist alongside social media tools delivering increased accessibility have only exacerbated this change. In the healthcare space for example we see patients preferring to seek information from others in their position rather than automatically following the authority of the doctor – the expert patient is an influencer we can’t afford to neglect.
But I digress. In an environment where a politician rubbishes the views of experts (I believe the exact phrase was “the people of this country have had enough of experts”) and exhorts voters to take back control, what that’s really about is tapping into this lack of trust in companies or organisations that people deem to have ‘something to gain’ from a specific decision or point of view — otherwise known of course as the Mandy Rice-Davies approach for those of an older generation i.e. “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he”.
It’s a bit of a no-brainer then to say that trust is at the core of leadership, and the bigger question this throws up is that of how do you build and retain trust in what is now a more mistrustful, more suspicious, and in general much more anxious environment than it was just a few short days ago. There isn’t a simple answer alas, but part of it must lie in taking the time to really listen to what the people you’re hoping to lead are concerned about – to genuinely hear and acknowledge their point of view. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but if you’re not listening you’ll miss something absolutely critical that has the ability to either undermine or shore up the trust that you’re aiming for.
I daresay that in the time it has taken me to write this post – or for you to read it – another unexpected political manoeuvre will have taken place, so stay tuned and let’s see what more we can learn from a leadership perspective about what happens next. Right now I think my next post might be about understanding the length of people’s memories and how long it can take to overcome or mitigate for leadership missteps, but let’s see where the news takes us.