Leadership across different worlds: Post-truth, facts and feelings

leadership worlds
2017 has been a strange year so far. There is a disconnect between how things are and how things feel. Last month saw a leadership contest where the winner felt like they had lost and the loser felt as if they had won. This weekend a rugby team felt like they had lost even though they had travelled to the far side of the planet, beaten the odds, come from behind in a series and achieved parity with the best in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, the G20 summit took place. Taking part was the man who had won the US presidential election, even though he had lost the popular vote and is under a Federal investigation. It may not feel as though he is particularly presidential, yet it is he with whom leaders must meet. In the Middle East, Iraqi forces retook Mosul; but the video images of a bombed-out and shattered husk of a city do not convey the feel of a victory.

There are two versions of the world – the world that is and the world that appears to be. Where should we focus our attention? ‘On reality, of course’ would be a likely answer, ‘on facts and truth’. But in a post-truth world, is there still room for fact? The General Election and the EU Referendum were certainly fought on feelings rather than facts. The Alt-Right in the US and the Alt-Left in the UK dominate the social media news space with their ‘alternative facts’. The stock market has always been based on confidence not evidence.

The truth is, as Twenty-First Century leaders, we need to be aware of both worlds. Truth may be unpopular right now, but it won’t go away. No matter how successful you may feel your business is, if the company accounts are telling a different story you may need to take action or seek assistance. If a star employee decides to move on or retire, it may feel like a disaster, but rational thought will remind you that other exceptional performers are out there just waiting for an opportunity. You may feel as though you’ve been particularly diligent regarding regulations such as the Senior Managers Regime, but you are either compliant or you are not.

When it comes to people, we need to remember that feelings are not always telegraphed. We need to develop our emotional intelligence and empathise with how the world feels to others. The records may show that an individual has achieved a great series of results recently. However, you can’t assume that they’re feeling positive about this – the effort may be utterly draining them. An analysis of requirements and skills could indicate that someone is ideally suited to their role, whilst they may actually feel great frustration in their current position and be deeply unhappy.

Leaders need to be able to keep track of multiple worlds. The way the world is – the cold, hard world of facts, laws and reality cannot be ignored. However, the way the world feels is important too – judging trends and gauging direction is how you recognise opportunities. Last, and by no means least, is the need to remember the personal worlds that people inhabit. Clients, competitors, employees, and partners all see the world through their own lens and it is a reality to be mindful of. A work culture is a reflection of how a leader leads, and cultures of understanding can evolve where these worlds can co-exist without friction.

Bearing these things in mind might not help make any sense of a strange year on a strange planet, but it may help you to navigate the strangeness more easily.

A Leadership Tale

May Corbyn Nuttall
Once upon a time there were three leaders trying to gain control of their country. One was a confident leader who was so determined to be strong and stable that she told everyone. Unfortunately she did not display other authentic leadership qualities such as some humility, a willingness to engage with her people and believed everything that her advisers told her.

Another leader focused a lot of his energies towards the younger voters. He promised lots of things that would appeal to them like minimum pay, scrapping of university fees and making the environment much more youth friendly. He also came across as authentic and relaxed when talking to voters. He also made good use of social media and communicated effectively.

Finally there was the leader who inherited a political party that was in complete disarray. He also had to try and sell an old set of policies that had already been achieved and there did not seem to be anything new to offer. He definitely came across to voters as someone who had been given a “hospital pass”.

So what was the result. Bizarrely, the person who won the election actually felt that they had lost – mainly because they were expected to win by a massive landslide and did not. The person who came second felt that they had won because they had not been wiped out. Finally, the leader is disarray remained In disarray and not only did not get voted in, but also resigned as leader.

So what is the key leadership lesson? It is all about trust – If all the other factors had remained the same, different levels of trust could have altered the fortunes of all three.

If the first leader had established a strong trust with people beforehand, they may have supported her decision not to engage with the process, maybe even seen it as a sign of superiority. But not enough trust was there. The second leader’s ideas were considered by critics to be too fanciful and optimistic. But many people ignored the negativity because they trusted him. The third leader had to rely on trust. Having been dealt an empty hand, he had to create belief for his followers in a new relevance and purpose. But the trust wasn’t there.

The moral of the tale? If you can persuade your people to put their trust in you then success is much more likely.

French Lessons – Macron’s election from a leadership perspective

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.