As the 2015 General Election campaign gets underway, I wonder if I am the only one lamenting the circumstances in which it does so: rarely have so many parties actually had a chance of making an impact, yet rarely has the electorate been so disenchanted with its options. As the latest British Social Attitudes Survey indicates, the electorate is “fragmented”, whilst at the same time “Coalition government is less popular than it has ever been”.
Without attempting to analyse the causes for this fragmentation, which is seen across Europe, it seems reasonable to surmise that the longest recession in living memory, accompanied by other economic challenges, hasn’t helped. I can’t help noticing however, that the parties that are doing relatively well in opinion polls and elections across Europe, tend to be the ones that articulate a simple message, delivered with passion.
These, of course, are characteristics that we associate with some of the great leaders of history; yet it is presently the case that many of the mainstream parties eschew simple messages delivered with passion, in favour of contorted arguments about why their opponents would be even worse than they are; delivered with extreme caution. Even the question of whether the main party leaders should debate on live TV has fallen victim to this ultra-caution, evasion and obfuscation.
The outcome of the election will, I suggest, have as much to do with the perception of the party leaders as genuine or phony, passionate or mealy-mouthed, as it will on any policy judgements. So the parties will only have themselves to blame if the aftermath of May 7th is political chaos.
So what should they do? In my opinion they would do well to focus on some basic principles of Leadership:
- Know your Purpose – what difference will YOU make to the lives of those who follow you?
- Chart the Course – be clear about your Strategic Objectives the direction you will take to reach them and key Milestones. Make sure everyone knows what the hazards are as well, i.e. what could go wrong: in the real world, you are not infallible, and you can’t control external factors.
- Be Authentic – live by a clear set of Values, coherent with your Purpose, and waste no opportunity to reinforce your commitment to them.
- Display Integrity – the reason you are here, now, is to achieve that Purpose: to do that you need to encourage, support and help people to follow you. Shifting the goalposts, playing games with statistics etc will not help your personal credibility!
- Go where the Action is – model Howard Schultz, who aims to visit 25 Starbucks outlets every week. If you’ve started something, go and face the reality – check it’s working and talk to the people involved – if you hide from fear of failure, you WILL fail!
- Do Details – the Devil is indeed in the Detail when you are changing people’s lives (in business or in politics) – make sure you know everything you should know about your enterprise, strategy, contingency and make sure the plan doesn’t get lost in translation.
- Put People First – as Ralph Nader said, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Business, especially in the Customer Experience sector, like Politics, is fundamentally about People. How you treat them, engage them, support them, will determine whether they will follow you in bad times as well as good. It will also determine how far they will go in pursuit of your Strategy, especially when you’re not there.
- Tell Stories – Abraham Lincoln led the USA through some of its most turbulent times. He was famous for his ‘folksy’ style and for having an anecdote to illustrate every point. The genius point was that his stories illustrated complex and controversial issues with clarity and tension-dispelling humour. Remember, as Leader, you are “Chief Dispenser of Enthusiasm” – so find ways to keep your story fresh, relevant and compelling!
Let’s see how many of these principles are followed by the party leaders over the coming weeks – and how far that correlates to their success on May 7th!