What can recent political events teach us about leadership development?

I think it is safe to say we are ‘living in interesting times’ as far as politics goes. Results again and again are quoted as being ‘unprecedented’. The Brexit vote against the odds, Trump’s surprise victory, Theresa May’s rise and fall, and Jeremy Corbyn’s fall and rise. If the political establishment haven’t worked it out yet, there is a sea change occurring and it has a lot to do with leadership.

Primarily, leadership is about trust. Being real (‘authentic’ is the current buzzword), telling the truth, showing appropriate levels of vulnerability to demonstrate you are human, admitting when you are wrong or don’t know and really listening to people. All of this helps people fulfil two of the basic human needs – feeling valued and feeling in control.

What has happened at a basic level across the globe, with the changing face of the media, is that politicians’ flaws have become more exposed. Where Tony Blair used the media of his day to convince the people of changing times, Theresa May has failed to use the media to connect with people, leaving her perceived as cold and heartless. In their quest to be ‘perfect’ leaders, they end up being exposed as false, saying anything to get in power or to stay there.

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn shows us vividly what is happening in the political sphere. He has turned himself from a national joke to a national hero of the people. When questioned, people are saying “He’s real”, “He’s himself” and “He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not”. The more the media show his latest ‘gaffe’ or stumble, the more people can connect with him. Not forgetting, of course, he has the easier job of being leader of the opposition and able to tell the country what should be done rather than doing it!

Nevertheless, he has clearly set a vision that many people believe in. He admits he doesn’t know completely how he is going to get there, but states it with a passion and determination which many people feel has been sadly lacking in politics. So, while other parties are concentrating on getting their policies clear (i.e., what we will do if we are in power), Corbyn is just ‘being’, which is creating a large following.

5 Valuable Leadership Lessons

Regardless of your politics, there are some valuable lessons Jeremy Corbyn is teaching us about leadership, if we are open-minded enough to listen:

1.   Be yourself as a leader first and foremost – don’t listen to advisors who tell you that you need to behave in a way which isn’t you, to keep people on your side.

2.  Have a vision that you truly believe in – work out what you care about and use this to get people to follow you.

3.  ‘Being’ is more important than ‘doing’ in getting people to initially engage with you – people are always weighing you up. “Can I trust them?” “Are they someone I can believe in?” “Are they human, with all the frailties that entails?”

4.  Use your company’s ‘media’ to get your message out to people – don’t put ‘spin’ on it, let people get to know the real you. If they like what they hear they will follow you, and the message will be secondary.

5.  And last but not least (and this is where Jeremy Corbyn will eventually be judged if he ever gets to be PM) tell the truth about where you are going, what the consequences could be (good and bad) and let people make up their own minds. Ultimately we are judged on our ability to deliver what we have promised. This is much easier if we have laid it out up front, warts and all.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might like to read Part 2.

If you would like to talk to us about how to grow the ‘real’ leadership in your organisation, call David Tomkinson on 07710 003029 or email david@andpartnership.com.