Leaders need followers

One of the most important questions for leaders to ask themselves is ‘who do I want my followers to be?’ – now whilst in many situations the answer may seem blindingly obvious, let’s take a look at the current leadership elections and challenges across the British political system in the wake of Brexit to see what this tells us.

Labour’s leadership meltdown since the referendum has been unprecedented, yet truthfully it is a leadership meltdown of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) rather than the grassroots membership (or at least that’s how Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters see it). Last night Corbyn appealed directly to Labour supporters via Facebook, making bold statements about the success of his leadership when it came to opposing the current government, in winning by-elections, local and London mayoral elections, and calling for unity moving forward.  Although, in watching him speak against a bright yellow backdrop I was vividly reminded of the episode of Yes Prime Minister when the hapless Jim Hacker was advised to adopt high-energy wallpaper and abstract paintings as a background to his ministerial broadcast in order to disguise the absence of anything new in the actual speech.

Nevertheless, against a backdrop of a vote of no-confidence in his leadership passed by 172-40 MPs, more than 60,000 people have joined the Labour party in order to have their say should the mooted leadership election come to pass.

Clearly, this illustrates a schism between the MPs chosen by local labour associations to represent them and the views of many of the grassroots membership.  Does this mean that local MPs will be deselected by their own local party committees if the revolt continues?  At any rate, Corbyn has been pretty clear about who he believes his followers are and they certainly don’t include the majority of current Labour MPs.

The discussion in many of the newspapers yesterday morning around Lord Ashdown’s suggestion of a new political soft-left-centrist movement raised the risk that if Labour MPs and Corbyn’s supporters can’t find a way to compromise, there might be a new home and a new leader for his disaffected parliamentary followers. Frankly, with the pace of political change at the moment, who would discount it?  As I write, negotiations are about to start to try to find that compromise – so let’s watch this space to see how that pans out.

What’s the takeaway here? Well, know who your followers are – and know who they aren’t – so you can find ways to reach out to everyone you are trying to lead.  And, remember the power of the individual vs the organisation when you are shaping your communications strategy. More soon.


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