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Leadership Lessons from Brexit

For the next 20 years researchers, analyst and academics will be examining what happened with the UK referendum vote to leave the EU, better known as Brexit.  There are so many lessons that can be learned from the activities up to the vote, the actual vote itself, and then the subsequent actions (or some may say lack of actions) that have occurred since the decision.  The recent London Business School article on leadership lessons is one of these papers as it was very well done and worthy of deeper discussion.

Here are the seven lessons learned: -

Emotion beats logic – and this came out in spades as part of the process.  The exit vote had many reasons to vote leave ranging from not liking immigrants, to trade agreement, dislike of EU standards, not trusting Brussels and dozens of other rational or non-rational reasons.  The people who voted to stay had one reason – they wanted to remain in the European Union.  The emotional vote to leave was for many reasons and causes.  Post the vote one of the most interesting discussions I had with a “senior citizen” who had voted to exit was talking about the fact she just hired a cleaner who was Polish, but she did not like all these immigrants.  People’s actions are not lining up with how they voted.

Experts don’t count for much – to me; this is one of the scariest outcomes of the vote.  Facts seem to get in the way of a great story.  Buses with statements saying “Vote to leave and you can have all the money that the EU gets put into the National Health Service” in no way reflected reality but people did not want to listen to the experts.  I see this also in the USA elections, where the fact checkers have almost non-stop set of items to check but does anyone care if the presenter did not get it right?

Activism is a priceless quality – Activism is influence without formal authority.  Before the vote, there were tonnes of activism in all types of areas.  The result of the vote does show what impact activist can have.

Know the limits of Crowdsourcing – My personal belief is that this should never have been a referendum.  We elect and pay our politicians to understand these big questions and to make the big decisions, not to crowdsource the decision to large groups of people.  Understanding the implications of an exit vote are very complex, and I am sure many people did not fully appreciate the impact.  This lack of understanding is best evidenced by the parts of the UK that had significant majorities vote to leave the EU yet at the same times was the parts of the UK that received the most investment from EU funds.

Leaders reap what the sow – I have to give Theresa May a lot of credit on appointing Boris Johnson to Secretary of State.  As a leader for leaving the EU, he now has to help deliver it (along with a few of his equally vocal exit voices).  Too bad there are not long term share option schemes in the government which allow people like Boris only to get their bonus when there has been successful longer achievements.

Time your run carefully – Did Boris pick the exit side of the campaign as he wanted to be Prime Minster, some people say yes.  If he did, his timing was awful.  

You aren’t a leader if you don’t have followers – a statement that needs no further comment.

These seven leadership lessons from Brexit equally apply to business.  As a head of any organisation, you must have people who are willing to follow you and the strategy you establish is executed to the logical conclusion. To motivate your employees and other stakeholders the facts around the business need presenting in a way that people buy in and reducing emotion, and this creates the right environment for logical fact based decisions. Employees who behave in an activist manner can add value but they can also re-rail and take the focus off the strategic direction.  And to me, the biggest lesson learned; don’t ask your workforce to give their opinion on significant business questions, as leaders get paid for making the big strategic business decisions.

Article by Mary Sue Rogers

Picture Credit - Guardian

Posted On : 28-09-16

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