A lesson for all leaders
It was a simple question posed by the senior political correspondent for Sky News, Beth Rigby: “How are you feeling, Mrs May…?”
You might have thought she would have at least said: “a bit tired”, or, “I’ve had better days”. You know, something, human-like. Instead, we got this: “What I’m feeling, is that there is a job to be done.” Maybot strikes again. Reaction, on Twitter was swift. This, from Jess Phillips MP, was typical.
Her lack of emotional intelligence will be her downfall – arguably, has already been her downfall. I predict she’ll be out of office, by the end of the month, not just because she wiped out a Tory majority at a totally unnecessary general election (costing us, the taxpayer, around £130m), but also because of how she has conducted herself since 9th June. Failing to acknowledge the division in the country, when she spoke outside No. 10, after duping HM The Queen that she had done a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, and could, therefore, form a government. Failure to communicate with her MPs who lost their seats. Failure to see, and respond accordingly, to the uncertainty she has created.
Something resembling a sixth-sense is a necessary attribute for effective leadership, and not just in politics. Having a tin ear, will, eventually, expose those with power. Bad leaders, think leadership is about control, when it’s actually about consensus. They confuse direction with dictating, and they often resort to bullying when even they know they have lost the backing of those they lead. It’s not that people don’t want to be led, they do. They often will their leaders to change, to improve. Mrs May’s former communications director said she had to beg the PM to do media interviews. Senior directors surrounding business leaders, or trustees supporting chief executives in the third sector, have a duty to feedback, honestly, when it’s going wrong. It’s not easy, given that tin ear will be flapping, noisily in the breeze, deaf to all who bellow into it.
An inability to communicate, either with the media, or your own staff/constituents, really ought to preclude you from high office. Sadly, it doesn’t. Mrs May was the accidental PM. Some of our charity leaders are accidental CEOs, not least because they founded their own organisations and have hung around for far too long. This is eloquently covered in an anonymous blog in Guardian Voluntary Sector Network
Those, like me, who have serious concerns about their leader, must keep up the pressure on them to adapt or move on. Sometimes, that’s not always possible to do from within the organisation. The truth is, those without any emotional intelligence, or those displaying malignant narcissism are probably unable to adapt. In politics, they can be voted out, eventually. In business, shareholders are becoming increasingly vocal. What of the third sector? Strong and stable boards, to coin a phrase, are vital in holding a chief executive to account. Trustees must continue – or in some cases start – to ask probing questions, not just of the chief executive but other staff, especially those ‘on the ground’. Some worry that that’s interfering in operational matters. It isn’t. Call it 360° feedback to the CEO. That will help the many, not the few, who may well be struggling with ineffective leadership, whether around the cabinet room or boardroom.