A Brexit of sorts? Leadership lessons from Dunkirk

brexit
The United Kingdom is embattled, standing alone against all of Europe and trying to facilitate the best possible exit for its people. Is the 21st century Brexit the equivalent of 1940’s Dunkirk? There may be some comparisons to be made but it is perhaps not the most appropriate or tactful of analogies. However, what we can see in the events of Dunkirk that is of relevance today is truly effective leadership under extreme pressure.

Christopher Nolan’s film is currently retelling what is, to some, a familiar story. A new, younger audience may be learning about the dramatic escape of over 300,000 soldiers for the first time. All stand to learn something. Whether you’re conducting negotiations in Brussels or running your own business here in the UK, there are leadership lessons to be learned from the example of Captain Bill Tennant. As the Naval officer tasked with organising the beach evacuations at Dunkirk, he demonstrated the importance of:

1. Seizing opportunities
2. Innovating
3. Acting with grace and humility

Did the British get lucky at Dunkirk? Yes, to an extent. Hitler’s decision to halt his ground advance and allow Goering to finish off the trapped Allied forces from the air provided a window of opportunity. However, this opportunity could have amounted to very little had it not been fully seized. Up until this point, under 8000 soldiers per day were being evacuated. The opportunity of extra time alone would have only resulted in 45,000 men rescued (Vice-Admiral Ramsay’s initial estimate). Tennant recognised that they had been given a chance to lift many, many more.

Good luck might come your way or you might be given a great opportunity but remember this is just the beginning – what can you do to make the most of this chance?

To fully seize the opportunity of an extra few days, Tennant set about rethinking the evacuation strategy and repurposing the resources at his disposal. The East Mole breakwater – a structure never designed to be a jetty – was converted into a dock. Boats could moor alongside twenty-four hours a day, regardless of tide. Captains who had been waiting in the channel for troops to be ferried out to them could now directly rescue soldiers themselves. Nearly 18,000 men were evacuated the first day it was used; Over 47,000 the day after.

What could you do differently? Do you possess resources you could put to a new, more effective use or are there ways you could involve members of your team more directly?

The world remembers ‘the little ships’. Quite rightly, the civilians who risked everything to do their part and take their small vessels into a warzone and onto the beaches are the most recognisable image of the operation. However, of the 300,000 eventually rescued from Dunkirk, over 70% owed their escape to Tennant’s idea of using the mole. He was a Royal Navy officer though – he was doing his duty. The civilians were a small part of the operation but they were doing something extraordinary.

Your part in a great success may not always be obvious. Hopefully this doesn’t bother you – personal ambition shouldn’t come before the team’s result. Your initiative and innovation may be at the heart of a big win but if members of your team have performed exceptionally it is right that they receive the recognition.

The British see the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 as a heroic success, in the face of potential disaster; the Germans viewed it as the final victory of its Continental European conquests; and today the Russian media has said that Dunkirk was in fact all about cowardice. It is all about perspective. I am in no doubt that those days were an incredible feat of human endeavour, and remind us in business today that, actually, anything is possible!

French Lessons – Macron’s election from a leadership perspective

Macron
The election of Emmanuel Macron as the next French president comes as a relief to many, but presents France, Europe and the world with a series of unknowns. At this stage there is much speculation, in terms of policy at least. However, from a leadership perspective there are some interesting learning points.

Whilst our General Election may be framed as an individual leadership issue due to the Brexit negotiations, it is not designed to be so. The French presidential election, however, is all about the individual and therefore their leadership capability, as well as policies. When the French populace were asked to assess presidential capability, it appears that age and experience were no longer two of the essential leadership qualities required.

France seem to have broken the mould by not only voting in the youngest ever president, but also one who runs the newest political party. Created only a year ago, En Marche is not unlike a start-up company and has a staff with an average age of around 30. As people’s work and home lives are regularly transformed by similar, disruptive companies comprised of young individuals, it is not surprising that they place trust in youth, enthusiasm and drive.
french leadership lessons

The average age of CEOs is declining, and has been since the 1980s. As a leader, Macron seems to be displaying all the modern qualities needed in a social media age. More important than experience is authenticity. In his case, he presents himself as a man of the people, questioning the status quo but not wanting to destroy it. He has pledged to renewal and change; fresh faces and new blood.

Yet this change is likely to be tempered with continuity. Experience is still vital to meeting the demands of government. It will be interesting to see who he appoints as his key lieutenants in government. For all the benefits of youth and enthusiasm, many are expecting Macron’s cabinet to be balanced and anchored by some established political heavyweights. The fact that these individuals may be drawn from across the political spectrum makes the composition of this cabinet particularly intriguing.

Too many experienced old hands and his vision for change may be undermined, too few and his government may be underprepared for the task ahead. Getting the balance right will be crucial for him and reinforces an old lesson for us: That a capable leader is nothing without a capable team to lead.

UK General Election 8th June 2017 announced – A Reaction

Election 2017
Not much is certain in Twenty-First Century politics. The last General Election didn’t follow the predictions of the polls, nor did last year’s Brexit vote. Across the pond, President Trump’s 2016 victory was not in the script. Despite the lack of certainty surrounding public votes, Theresa May has decided to roll the dice again and yesterday called for a General Election on the 8th of June.

She must have confidence in the outcome to have changed her mind and made the call. The polls strongly agree, though we know that these days no poll survives first contact with the ballot box. Though certainty may be in short supply, we can hope that whatever the result on the 9th June, it will ultimately lead to more certainty and stability in the business world rather than less.

This will be an historic election, with Brexit as the main focus. A fundamental issue dogging the idea of Brexit since last July has been the fact that though the majority of voters chose to leave the EU, there was no agreement across the leave vote as to what a post-EU United Kingdom should look like.

Election manifestos will require parties to lay out their vision of the UK. While it is true that any proposed vision of the UK may not emerge from negotiations with the EU intact, a written statement of intent at least provides a road map. There will be no certainty, but there will be more stability. The first step in a journey is working out where you are to begin with – at least we will have a starting point.

We may not have to suffer the behemoth election campaigns which Americans endure, but the campaigning surrounding the EU referendum last year certainly dragged on. The longer the campaign, the more disruption and uncertainty is caused to the business community. The short six week timetable may mean less disruption to business, which will be welcome.

Questions will still remain afterwards – most notably regarding Europe. However, we can dare to hope that ‘business as usual’ can resume by mid-June. We should have more stability than we currently have, fewer unknowns and an idea of the nation’s direction of travel, or at least the intended direction. Nothing is certain these days but perhaps, when the dust settles, the business world will emerge more stable and assured.

In the news: post-Brexit change in a job offer

Brexit has brought with it uncertainty in all sorts of areas, not least recruitment strategy throughout financial services.

If you’ve been looking to land a new job this year, you may have found yourself in a unique position: a post-Brexit change in your job offer.

Andrew wrote an article for Financial News on just this topic, and the full article can be found here.