Well it’s certainly been a roller coaster over the last few days in No 10 and central government. I’m wondering what the academics would say about leadership qualities and styles when they analyse the ‘reign’ of Boris Johnson – and those who came before him, May and Cameron. For they each demonstrate how the leadership pipeline can be grown or demolished.
Let’s look at some of the elements of Johnson & Schole’s cultural web to help us understand what has happened to the leadership.
What is it that people have been talking about inside and outside of No 10, the Cabinet, Parliament the Conservative party and the country as a whole? What does it say about their values and what is perceived as great behaviour? I could spend hours dissecting the stories at all of these levels for they are hugely diverse but my latest thinking is that it is this diversity which has caused problems in understanding what these leaders are all about. Sure the underlying story is one of low taxes and minimal government interference and yet the actions of the teams under Cameron, May and now Johnson have not demonstrated that.
How good were the three of them when it came to telling those important stories? Cameron’s personality meant that he could connect easily with his audience, yet he failed with his biggest story, persuading his party and the UK to stay in Europe. He left a pipeline which could only mean failure for whoever took it over. May fell into the trap of many women: stepping in to rescue a situation, to set the parameters only to be superseded by another who could then take claim for any success. As leader she could connect with individuals but not so much with the wider groups; her ability to shape the stories for different audiences was insufficient and thus, her leadership opened up a pipeline for someone who could shape the stories to fit the message and the culture they wanted to cultivate. Johnson is the consummate story teller and so his stories were promoted to such a degree that even when they were obviously false, many still believed them. Which leads us nicely onto…
Rituals and Routines
What was the daily behaviour and actions of people that signalled acceptable behaviour? In any bureaucratic organisation there are processes which provides the checks and balances required for complex systems to function. UK plc is a massive bureaucracy and centuries of custom and practice to guide and shape behaviour. What impact did Cameron have on this?
He operated reasonably effectively within the governmental systems under which the civil service operate but was hamstrung by those of the ‘Board’ equivalent – his political party. He tried to modernise conservatism but was unable to restructure the core ideology around Europe leading to his downfall. May then relied upon the established rituals and routines to bring order to a complex, messy issue. Ultimately though there was not enough flexibility within those systems and the power structures surrounding her to enable this to occur. Acceptable behaviour turned from supporting the leader to covertly and overtly sabotaging them.
Then Johnson tore up the rule book, aided and perhaps encouraged by members of his team, started shaping the rituals and routines around his personal ideology.
Where were the pockets of real power? The ability to become a leader of the country, the development of that leadership pipeline, boils down to a very small group: the political party’s membership. Yes, they can be influenced by other power groups: the Cabinet, Parliament, the media and ultimately the ballot box, and this impacts on decisions, operations, strategic direction, and the stories that the leaders tell. Ultimately though to become a leader it is the party’s membership who chooses them and so anyone who wants to enter the leadership pipeline have to shape their stories, their rituals and routines to curry favour of those who elect the leader, and thus choose the potential Prime Minister. It is the power structure that shapes the pipeline.
Let’s come full circle then. It is the stories that the leaders are able to shape, to tell, that influences the core power structure. It is the stories that shape the direction, the culture and all of the other elements of the cultural web. Perhaps then, the modern leader needs to be the ultimate storyteller. but that leads to fractured, broken leadership if it is not tempered by other elements in the web. It is these elements that need to be bolstered so there is an holistic approach to leadership, one that can support the development of a positive and growing pipeline for all levels of leadership in an organisation.
A modern leaders then needs to focus on all elements of the cultural web if there is to be stability and progress.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.