Mo Chaudry: The benefits of strong leadership

The benefits of strong leadership


With apparent divisions and indecision in the government, there is plenty of attention on leadership at the moment. So there should be, because without strong leadership we are left with a ship floundering towards the rocks on the shore.

What I see at the top right now confirms what I have long thought. Leadership is not about being clever – there are many clever people who cannot lead – rather it is about having natural instinct and empathy. It is about being street smart and understanding what makes people tick.

Boris Johnson is a case in point. He is the perfect example of someone who has created an image, a ‘personality’, for himself – an image the media has helped to sustain – behind which he can hide his obvious failings.

Boris is almost a celebrity politician. He has become Foreign Secretary by virtue of a created personality, like a reality TV show contestant. But that is no measure on which to appoint somebody. A promotion should be made correctly, on merit and relevance, otherwise there will be trouble ahead.

This is exactly what has happened with Boris. His gaffs are legendary. People laugh them off, but the truth is they are reputationally damaging to the country. Boris is clearly not in sync with how normal people think. He thinks he can laugh everything off, but he is in arguably the second most important position in the country. Foreign Secretary is no place for buffoonery. He clearly does not have the relevant skills.

This leads to me another area. People say Boris is clever, and the right man to lead, because he is, after all, an Oxbridge graduate. I would say a privileged background does not necessarily qualify you for leadership.

We are no longer in a bygone age where people were born to rule. Being a leader is no longer down to an accident of birth. It is a right that has to be earned. Does anyone really think, in 2017, that the best credential for a leader is a route through Eton or Harrow to Oxbridge?

The gap between those who travel that road and the normal person on the street is huge. What ability do they have to understand a normal life that they have never experienced? I’m not tarring everyone with the same brush, because clearly some people who take that route can still make that connection. The point I’m making is that it’s far more important to have emotional intelligence and empathy when it comes to getting the best from others. Far more important to have experienced the day to day tribulations to ensure you are truly offering your people what they need.
I am not disputing that Boris Johnson is an intelligent man. You don’t reach his position by not being clever. My point is that he is not clever in a manner appropriate to him being Foreign Secretary. For instance, his record clearly shows he has no idea of other cultures and how to deal with serious diplomatic issues. His cloak of bumbling bonhomie, which he has used to shroud so many of his failings, is no shield against a withering international community who can see all too well the glaring inadequacies and inconsistencies of the man underneath.

Leadership is about accepting responsibility for your actions, not diverting attention away from them. It is also about having the strength, and decency, to apologise when you get things wrong, not trying to deflect responsibility on to others. The buck stops with you. If that’s an issue, then you’re in the wrong job.
To develop trust and confidence, one requires consistency of approach, fairness, transparency, and, above all, a decisiveness to take action and get things done. To smooth that process you need to share your missions and goals with those in your organisation. From there comes that all-important  united and consistent approach. That way everyone is aligned and the organisation can move forward without constantly struggling to overcome every hurdle.

If, on the other hand, self-protection is the dominating goal, then those hurdles can only become barriers. If you have not had the intelligence to treat people with dignity, and fairly, then those self-same people won’t be lining up to give you a leg-up over the wall in times of need. As a leader, you must think and deal with matters unselfishly. People don’t mind the struggle as long as everyone is aligned to one cause. Never make promises upon which you can’t deliver. Best to under promise and over deliver is my motto.

Too often in politics, I see ill-considered deals done to obscure less palatable under lying issues, keep certain people happy, and negate internal competition. But life – politics, business, whatever – is not a game. One bad decision can have a major impact on the country or the business. Strong leadership may not be liked by some, but it is always in the best interests of the organisation.

I was at the Palace of Versailles last week and I can see why the French Revolution happened. The king was cocooned in his gilded world and either not realising his people’s plight or caring it was happening. The consequence in that case was disillusionment and, to put it mildly, strident action for change.

Versailles is a grandiose physical reminder of how an elite can become far, far removed from the ordinary people. Its mesmeric beauty is set stark against an ugly misunderstanding of the needs, and will, of the man and woman in the street.
Modern politicians are wrong to think they can still lead from a cocooned Westminster palace while we look on, bowed to our fate, from a distance. Brexit and Trump are the two great examples of the people displaying disdain for the old-fashioned systems, of being willing to enact drastic change.

The strongest leadership carries its country with it. At every turn, Boris and those like him are scattering the disillusioned people of Britain across the carriageway.

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