Laura Gordon: Leaders need to be dependable in times of crisis

When the Sue Gray report was finally released, many people wondered if our Prime Minister might resign.

But although it found there were failures of leadership and judgment at No 10 and the Cabinet Office, Boris has made it clear he’s going nowhere.

Instead, he said sorry and pledged lessons would be learned.

He found himself in more hot water after an exchange in the Commons when he made a remark about Sir Keir Starmer “failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” – though he later conceded Starmer had personally had nothing to do with the case.

But this week the controversy went from bad to worse when Starmer was surrounded by an angry mob shouting about Savile, Covid and Assange among other things.

Some blamed Boris’s comments and called for him to step down.

Let’s put our political leanings to the side for a minute, and imagine Boris wasn’t PM.

Let’s imagine he was the CEO of a large company and speculate on how this would play out.

I don’t think for one second he’d still be in situ. His board, his shareholders and his staff simply wouldn’t stand for it.

Yet it doesn’t seem to work like that in politics.

Throughout history, we have seen leaders who don’t display the qualities and behaviours we should expect of those at the top.

Leadership guru Simon Sinek wisely said: “A leader should not take credit when things go right if they are not willing to accept responsibility when things go wrong”.

If only it worked that way in politics.

Let’s examine Boris’s word choice when he’s under fire.

When he gave his apology statement in the wake of the Sue Gray report, he used the word “we” a lot – classic deflection.

He said he wanted to “get on with the job” – the right words on paper.

But somehow, they suggest that the garden party controversy is an inconvenience he wants over and done with.

And when he first backtracked on his Starmer remarks he said people had got “hot under the collar”.

It sounds flippant rather than suggesting he’s taking his critics seriously.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about what makes a true leader and engendering trust and respect are key.

You need to demonstrate you care about the people around you, and the way you communicate is crucial in achieving that.

I remember reading a Gallup survey of the chief human resources officers of 100 of the world’s largest organisations and its findings reminded leaders they need to put their people’s feelings first and foremost.

It said humans experience life “30 per cent rationally and 70 per cent emotionally”, making attributes like trust, compassion, stability and hope essential.

Leaders need to be consistent and dependable, and during these turbulent times, this has never been more important.

Sure, it’s easy for me to sit in judgement, watching the news, without full insight into the difficult decisions being made and the pressures behind the scenes.

I would hate to be in the position of having to deal with many of the huge dilemmas political leaders face, on a daily basis.

So this isn’t designed to be a swipe at Boris. It’s just a reminder that all leaders out there – whatever their political party or their industry – need to consider these things or they risk their position becoming untenable.

Peter Drucker, an influential thinker on leadership, once said that the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.

Boris reportedly sang Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive to No 10’s new press chief recently – so I guess we’ll have to watch this space to see if his followers agree.

Laura Gordon is a CEO coach and group chair with Vistage International, a global leadership development network for CEOs

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