Recently, I have been trying to learn from what is happening. I profess no expertise in politics, other than an informal, almost daily, diet of selected information grazing. I occasionally dip my toe into the muddy waters of the extremists to avoid being in an echo chamber of similar views, but I confess I don’t enjoy it. Today, when I look through the lenses of managing change and leadership, my view is that the UK is showing little ability in either to the world.
Imagine you run a company and there is some discontent within. Something is wrong and there could be many reasons for it. What do you do? I don’t think I have ever read a change model that suggests you start by asking your employees two opposing questions, ‘do you want to do this or that?’ with no commonly agreed explanation of what this or that really mean, or the impact of doing either of them. You are more likely to investigate where the discontent stemmed from and what the ‘pain’ really is. Armed with this information, you would build a clear view of current reality and why things need to change. Simon Sinek said neatly in a different context ‘Start with Why’.
Kotter’s Change model suggests you Create a Sense of Urgency around the need for change and find key people who have a common understanding of what needs to happen to Build a Guiding Coalition. Theresa May, as the new leader following the referendum, created a sense of urgency by triggering Article 50 and beginning the 2-year clock but as it is proving, there was no understanding of the reasons necessitating the change; the causes of the people’s unhappiness. She also had difficulty forming a stable, guiding coalition as there was, and is, no common vision. Kotter’s third step is to Form a Strategic Vision and where Brexit is concerned, I have struggled to see one. What are the clear advantages of leaving? What will our new world be like?
As I write, there have been various, fevered attempts to develop a common vision as the negotiated ‘deal’ has been voted down twice and the Speaker (the indomitable John Bercow) has warned it cannot come back without substantive change. One reason it has been voted down is that there is no detail of the future relationship, other than a few pages of joint aspiration.
And what about leadership? After two sizable defeats, a change in leadership or even government are increasingly likely but only a fool would predict anything. We are trying to put the cart before the horse by trying to create a vision – a way forward - with no visible leader of the resulting compromise, although there are a few people building visibility and credibility in recent debates.
John Maxwell’s talks about a link between the leader and the vision in his Law of Buy-In from the 21 Laws of Leadership. He says that you cannot have a vision without a leader and when CEOs ask him ‘will my people buy into my vision?’ he asks whether the people have bought into them first. He puts it like this: “The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader and then the dream.”
Has the UK bought into its current leader? She seems to have a vision based on her own interpretation of the referendum result, but is it shared? As the latest series of votes has shown, we are good at saying what we don’t want but not articulating what we do. Any views from the people wanting to leave have harked back to an imaginary time gone by when we were all better off. Nostalgia is not a vision.
What I am waiting to see, bubbling up from the soup of options and possibilities debated in the House, is not just a vision of the way forward, but a leader to take us there.
GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE ON THE MARCH TODAY IN LONDON!!!