Like many of us I have observed the political tug of way between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over the past few weeks and months with fascination.
This opinion piece is no reflection on my political beliefs.
What fascinates me is the opportunity for observing such extreme examples of leadership styles and behaviour patterns that repeat themselves time and time again in organisations.
Its painful to watch Theresa May struggle as Prime Minister, and
I’m also sad to see a bright and competent woman be perceived as performing so badly in the role.
High performers don’t necessarily make the best leaders, but often find themselves promoted into leadership positions as a result of their success or confidence in a particular area of the business.
Theresa May has worked tirelessly and dutifully, her whole life been aiming for the top job. Recognised as Home Secretary where her attributes of hard work, determination, perseverance, and focus on delivery were well suited. She is steady, serious, and authoritative.
With a void of any other strong leaders in the party it was a natural step for her to become Prime Minister.
Whilst in power, May has resorted to her strong management style – pragmatic, hard-working and focused.
The result is a series of uninspiring slogans rather than the creation of a long term vision that people can connect to.
“Brexit means Brexit”
“Strong and stable”
Her inability to react quickly and make human connections has been on full display with her refusal to join the election TV debates. And to visit the Grenfell site and not be seen to meet with any of the survivors will be remembered as one of her biggest fails.
She is lacking the charisma, authenticity, empathy, adaptability and vision to be considered an inspiring leader.
MANAGER VS. LEADER
Leadership expert Warren Bennis gives a helpful summary of the distinction between managers and leaders:
“A manager administers, maintains and focuses on structure. A leader innovates, develops and focuses on people.
While a manager relies on control, a leader inspires trust.
The manager does things right, the leader does the right thing.
The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”
Traditionally career paths follow a linear progression from operational roles, to management, to leadership.
Being a leader of an organisation is very different from being a manager in that organisation. But often it is the only training most CEOs get for the job.
Five ways organisations can grow brilliant leadership and create the best conditions to let their people and business thrive:
Don’t be afraid to bring fresh talent in with the right leadership skills
Give new and developing leaders the right support to transition to their new role
Have more honest conversations with current and future leaders, with feedback on skills and capabilities, areas of strength and areas for development
Shape roles and teams to enable leaders to do more of what they are great at, and delegate the areas where they have less impact
Create a culture at a senior level (and throughout the organisation) of recognition, acknowledgement and frequent feedback
For Theresa May – leadership attributes can be learnt but she needs to demonstrate greater flexibility, listen, empathise, adapt, and build an inspiring strategy for a long term vision. And at the very least surround herself with the best possible advisors to compliment her style and enhance her shortcomings. In a period of such transformation for the country, to adapt at the pace the country requires from her may be too great an ask.