Brexit: Lessons in Leadership (or not)

Where to start on the list of things we can learn about leadership from the ‘Brexit’ vote? 

Perhaps we should start with what we know – which is that we still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.  If ‘perfectly informed’ markets were unable to accurately predict the outcome, how can we expect any single leader to know what’s coming next?  A stunning and stark example of the ‘certain uncertainty’ that is shaping the requirement for a new kind of leadership in today’s organisations.

Can we learn anything from the prominent political leaders in the Brexit campaign?  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s probably best not to look to current political leaders (on any side) for cues about leadership effectiveness.  Except maybe for examples of what not to do, and to reinforce the importance of trust, integrity and honesty.  It’s usually better to look to people you know – your boss, partner, parents or children, leaders in the community for these cues.

But if we’re not learning, we’re not really paying attention, and there are a couple of Brexit examples of the leadership enablers and capabilities we talk about when we describe the ingredients of leadership effectiveness in the Human Age. 

Daring to Lead.  David Cameron made a decision (courageous or foolish, depending on your perspective).  He took a risk, which did not work out for him.  Leaders can’t just wait to see what happens.  If they’re doing that, they’re not leading (look at Australian politics).  Today’s business environment requires bold, adaptable leaders who are willing to make reasoned yet risky decisions when necessary to achieve strategic goals.

Endurance.  Daring to lead means sometimes getting it wrong (ideally less often than getting it right!).  Evidence of this key leadership enabler for Mr Cameron will be seen in the future.  He may not need to become PM again just to prove Endurance, but he will need to Dare to Lead again – by remaining steadfast through challenging times and conditions, and bouncing back from failure. 

These two elements do not, of course, define leadership effectiveness by themselves.  But the list is not long – for we cannot aim to be everything in our leadership roles.  A focus on the few, key enablers and capabilities will help all organisations understand who is most likely to lead.  Voters don’t have the benefit of research-validated assessment tools when selecting their leaders, but organisations do.


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