Leadership: Corbymania – What have We Learned?

In my latest newslettter I explored some of the attributes that would be necessary not just to win the Labour Leadership Election, but also to sustain the victor. I suggested that successful Leaders:

  1. Know where they are going: people can’t follow you if the direction isn’t clear, and coherent. This is about your values and your future vision, in which those values prevail.
  2. Tell a story: your values and strategy aren’t enough. You need to weave a narrative that is about them (your followers), not you.
  3. Have a plan: your followers have bought into the values, they see themselves in the story; however the plan needs to explain how you will get there – and how you will deal with obstacles along the way.
  4. Are authentic: their style and behaviour is congruent with their prospectus; everything they do underpins what they stand for.
  5. Are credible: this is about more than just authenticity – it is about having the tools (experience and expertise) to lead this particular journey/project/organisation.
  6. Are humble: rarely, in this day and age, do successful Leaders “lead from the front” – in the sense that, they know that Leadership is a privilege, not a right, and its role is to create opportunities to let others shine, in pursuit of the common cause.
  7.  Are flexible: things change, opportunities and challenges appear from nowhere, disaster lurks just around the corner. Successful Leaders know how and when to change tack, taking their followers with them, without losing sight of the end vision.

It was fairly clear, from quite early in the contest, that only Jeremy Corbyn had a clear prospectus, based on strongly held convictions. For a variety of reasons, the other contenders were unable to communicate a POSITIVE, clear and compelling message; they failed to give the impression that they knew where they were going. Some of them appeared trapped in the past, unsure whether to embrace their previously-espoused values or to renounce them; others did not manage to articulate a coherent set of values or future vision at all.

Above all, Corbyn’s rivals appeared paralysed in the oncoming headlights of his energetic and infectious campaign. I give much credit to Corbyn for standing up for his beliefs, campaigning positively, and displaying an appealing humility; however you would have to conclude that the other candidates did little to deserve victory. They appeared not to know where they were going; they didn’t tell a story; and therefore they could not be authentic.

Since Corbyn’s victory, he has moved quickly to put his values into practice: putting together a diverse shadow cabinet and repeatedly talking about the “new politics” where debate is welcomed and the Leader has no divine right to be right.

The challenges he will face – and I make no comment on his politics – will, however be formidable. The harsh reality of Leadership is that you can’t only have opinions on the issues you choose; and, if your Leadership style is based on consensus, you can’t  choose to have a consensus when it suits you and be right when it doesn’t. The nuclear deterrent issue has already demonstrated the difficulty of encouraging debate whilst making it clear that, regardless of the outcome, you have already decided how you will act. And the problem with this particular issue is that there does not appear to be much room for flexibility. If the Leader loses the debate on this one, he will struggle to fudge the outcome.

Of course, not all Leaders embrace consensus. Margaret Thatcher  loved a debate, loved to win the argument, but reserved the right to have the final say, even if the majority was against her. That was her style; Corbyn has championed a very different approach. The next few years will show whether he can stick to his guns, be a consensual Leader, be authentic and therefore credible, even when he is swimming against the tide. If he can achieve that he will perhaps succeed in delivering his vision of a “new politics”. It’s definitely going to be interesting!

Read more about POSITIVE Leadership here.

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