We Fade To Grey: Leaders, Elections & Lessons

Version 2

At the beginning of this year (like everyone else, trying to catch my breath after the winding blows of 2016), I hypothesised that, if 2016 had been the year our focus (finally) arrested on the divisions in our Western societies, 2017 would be the year we turned our gaze to those who had become, or would seek to be, our conquerers.

Looking at Trump, May and Corbyn, I suggested each displayed a very specific type of leadership authenticity and leadership personality – Authentic Mutability/The Red Leader in Trump’s case, Authentic Reticence/The Blue Leader for May, and Authentic Resistance/The Green Leader for Corbyn.

Six months on, I’m sticking with these labels. In fact, I think they’ve all, in their ways, illustrated these leadership traits perfectly, and, rather helpfully of them, in fact, taught us how to avoid the pitfalls they themselves have been unable to swerve.

For Trump, his grasshopper-like attention span, combined with his Red-type leader bullishness (as so perfectly evidenced in his Augustus-Gloopesque crowbarring of himself to the front of the crowd in Brussels), has seen him lurch from one crisis to another, at a dizzying frequency for both casual and professional political observers.

Going all-out Scarlett O’Hara, Trump has ‘fiddle-dee-dee’d’ over details, around protocols and in the face of indisputable facts – displaying, for all the world to see, all the traits of the Red Leader at their worst.

For the self-straitjacketed May, her reticence, her inability to realise or release human emotion, has seen her characterised – and behaving – like a robot.

The cool, calm and collected blueness of the woman at work in office (which saw her popularity rise), when taken to the campaign trail, left everyone cold. There was no Red decisiveness; no Yellow vision; no Green humanity; just an icy, untouchable blue.

The conventionally introverted Blue Leader will often find reaching out – and looking out – their biggest challenge. They like to keep it tight. Work with a few trusted individuals. They like the detail, but fall prey to only seeing the trees, not the wood. This can mean looking in the wrong direction when there’s a burning hillside right in front of you.

In this, we see the election result for May, neglecting to see the daily realities for millions of people (the big picture) while, behind-the-scenes I’m sure, immersing herself in the detail for negotiations with the EU.

And, by failing to engage with her fellow minsters or the public, her tight-knit circle of advisors have ended up tightening the noose that the Conservative Party tie around the necks of all of their leaders should they show any signs of losing their grip on power.

Corbyn, in contrast, and in all fairness, has, of the three, made the most use of his style and personality and, as a result, has been the biggest success story of leadership in 2017 (relatively speaking).

Everyone stunned by the election result, or, at least, everyone among the commentariat, missed the fact that Corbyn has spent his political life campaigning.

The man is a campaigner. That’s what he does. Give the man a rally, a like-minded crowd and a megaphone, and he’s totally in his comfort zone. Capture that on a phone and share it, and you’ve got a movement – and a very authentic resistance movement at that.

Green Leaders don’t just create followers, they create disciples. They’re approachable, humane, human. They don’t look or speak or act like other leaders. That can make them very appealing. A breath of fresh air. Their challenge is whether others believe they can deliver, can make the tough decisions, can provide the detail too.

And therein is the flaw of the Green Leader displayed to perfection by Corbyn.

The Labour Party campaign strategists were right to seize on his personality as emblematic of a new kind, and kinder, form of politics, to infuse this with enough ‘Yellow-Type’ vision to make people believe a new spring might be possible, but, by not balancing this with enough Red dynamism or Blue detail, they were unable to capitalise on their potential purple patch.

Likewise, had May been able to inject a bit of Yellow vision and Green humanity into her campaign, she’d surely have been able to cross the line.

I’m glad she didn’t. And I’m glad Corbyn didn’t either. Though it all looks like a real mess and the situation we find ourselves in is the last thing the politicians, the power players, the City, the technocrats or the bureaucrats want – and though it might leave us in even muddier waters for some time to come – it was the right decision based on the choices on offer.

It just goes to show the wisdom of crowds. No one party was offering us the complete package, the right blend, the full spectrum of skills and ideas we need to reshape our shape-shifting country. We were right to have our doubts about all of them. We still are.

A year ago, I said my biggest problem with Brexit, on both sides of the argument, was the lack of a clear story, a clear plan. A year down the line, we’re still no clearer as to what Brexit actually means, what it actually might look like.

Now we’re all in a bit of a mess, maybe our politicians will be impelled to do what most people do when they find themselves in a real pickle: pull together. Work together. Come together to discuss options – to hear all opinions – in order to find a consensus, a way forward, to deal with our problems, rather than concentrating their efforts on how to grab, and keep hold of, power.

That really would be a new kind of politics.

So much depends on what our leaders are able to see. And that’s the thing about all this that really gets me. Who is advising these people? Why aren’t they seeing that they need to shore up their weaknesses by having a diversity of people and opinions around them?

Open any leadership book, attend a leadership conference, seminar or workshop, and you’ll always hear the same thing: you’re only as good as the people around you. You, as a human being from Planet Earth, will have strengths and weaknesses, and, always, potential blind spots.

Realising this is how you avoid the pitfalls. How you make the opportunities that can truly transform. But it takes a big person to listen and, as we all know, most people when they’re listening are really just waiting for their turn to speak.

The Digital Age, as I’ve argued so many times, has ushered in the Age of Transparency. There’s no where left to hide, so you better get your story straight. The only way our politicians can make sure they have the right story, have the answers, is by listening to the questions, understanding the problems.

The shock of this election shows the politicians and the media are no closer to understanding how people are feeling about the world they are living in than they were when Brexit happened, when Trump happened.

They have no excuse. The voices are out there. They have a lot to say, and the means to reach you. If our political class don’t start understanding there’s no choice but to listen to them, all of them, more and more will find their political careers rapidly fading to grey.

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