The Balls up in politics today

       The recent revelations in the Telegraph over the leadership battle for the labour party may make great weekend reading but they also demonstrate a few powerful lessons. Firstly, if any organisation, be it business, political, public or military wishes to achieve a goal it ought to make very sure that all key personnel are in agreement as to what that goal actually is. Without that clarity and common commitment you stand very little chance indeed. Secondly, if that organisation is to make real progress towards the agreed goal they must ensure that they have the right leader. And the third vital component for success is having the correct strategy.

There isn’t one style of leadership, there are many and the success of a particular style inevitably depends upon the stage of evolution of an organisation. Being the hero and making every decision yourself at the start-up and early growth stages may be necessary but later in the business life cycle a more participative, coaching style will start to prepare the team for the time when you aren’t going to be around. Did the Conservative party make the right choice of leader to match the prevailing circumstances with John Major, William Hague or Ian Duncan-Smith? Whatever your politics, there can be little dispute that Margret Thatcher and Tony Blair were fine examples of the old saying ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ (beg pardon, Maggie) . The people (and history) have certainly spoken on Gordon Brown but even the ‘Old Clunking Fist’ did have his moment of leadership over the banking crisis.

I can’t help thinking that political parties (especially those in opposition) place too much importance on choosing the person with the greatest voter or factional appeal and too little on choosing the qualities required lead them to agree and achieve their goals. So, how about Milliband minor – has he got what it takes in terms of personal qualities and the right strategy? Has he got a loyal lieutenant in Ed Balls?

People get hired for their qualifications and experience (with the possible exception of our politicians) but get fired for their performance (or lack of it). It has been found by one of the biggest International psychometric test houses that around 40% of all employees in the UK today do not have the right blend of personal qualities and preferred behavioural style for the job they hold – result? Frustration, misery, depression and, frequently, an appearance at an Employment Tribunal – a massive cost in terms of lost opportunity, money and damage to the organisations’s reputation.

So, the frequently asked question – can you learn to be a leader? Can you improve the skills you have? I’ve worked for few truly outstanding leaders but I have been privileged to work for some wonderful people who knew how to build and use all the talents their team required. Some types of leadership do require certain innate qualities but everyone can (and should) learn how to use their own strengths. Nevertheless, each one of us should be self-aware enough to realise that our particular skill set may not be right for every situation. One often overlooked skill in a leader is that of knowing when to delegate and to whom. However, wherever you fall on the leadership continuum, there are certain things you must engender in your business and never stop leading on – ethics and morality being two of the most important.

Sadly, when we look at our politicians today, it’s the ethics and morality that’s sorely missing in so many of them.

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4 responses to “The Balls up in politics today

  1. I think that one of the key attributes of a strong leader is self awareness. You need to at least have some sense of how you are perceived. In that sense you can learn to be a better leader, by getting feedback on your style, what works with people and what doesn’t.

    I would hazard a guess that Ed Balls puts little stock in such learnings and Ed Milliband might pay lip service to them, but would’t really listen. In contrast, I think that David Milliband is naturally more self aware and this checks the naked ambition that the other two display to the point of queasiness in the observer. Whatever else he might have been, Blair was very aware of how he was perceived. Brown was clueless on this issue.

  2. I agree that self awareness is one of the key qualities of a successful leader. Self awareness is one of the 5 components of Emotional Intelligence identified as essential for great leadership by Daniel Goleman; the others being self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. I think it is reasonable to claim that Blair demonstrated most of these characteristics except for self-regulation, tending to excel instead in self-belief.

    I think that it is not hard to speculate on which of these vital leadership qualities Brown was lacking. However, even when blessed with these essential qualities most politicians tend to negate the potential beneficial effects by an extreme and almost universal tendency towards mendacity and duplicity

  3. Brilliant blog, I was thinking about doing an MBA but I am probably learning more from reading this and it’s cheaper.
    I love that the postings are easy to read, relateable and succinct.

  4. Thank you ‘relaxed’ one. After a lifetime of slog, it’s nice to be able to gather thoughts and commit them to the ether in the hope that they mean something to someone (even if only to argue a point). I only hope that I can live up to your standards!

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