I’m writing this on the very day that Theresa May is waiting to find out whether parliament will support her Brexit deal, and because it’s so much in the news it got me thinking. Like her or not, I think most people admire her grit and determination through this process. She’s dealing with the cards she got dealt in taking over as Prime Minister – the result of the public’s referendum to leave the EU. She didn’t necessarily agree, or even instigate the process, yet she was left to pick up the pieces. So it’s surprising that she has so little support from her fellow MP’s. Why not? She’s been stoic, dealt with some very public humiliation and mud slinging and yet… why don’t they back her? It left me pondering.
As a Chelsea fan, it’s a bit like football. Look at Mourinho – he’s left Man Utd, yet once upon a time at CFC he was ‘the special one’ who could do no wrong. What exactly results in this similar fall from grace?
I suppose it’s like anyone who heads up a team or is at the helm of a people led business, whether it’s hairdressing, football or politics. Quite simply, you’ve got to have the dressing room. If you don’t have the support of the people you’re leading you might as well forget it. No true leader makes the mistake of letting ego get in the way and no manager is greater than the institution they are running. You could argue they are merely the caretaker in some cases. Failure to accept that is when things go wrong. When people start believing they are all things to all men and they don’t need to filter through their thought processes and explain the ‘why’s’ of what they are doing, it’s a recipe for disaster.
So how do you get the team onside? How do you make sure that you ‘have the dressing room’?
The answer is simple – communication. Inviting the team to become part of the problem solving, listening to their ideas and input, giving them autonomy – all of these things aren’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength to show that you value the teams contribution. It makes them feel empowered, involved and part of the solution, not the problem. As Winston Churchill, arguably our greatest leader once said: ’A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’. Richard Branson similarly speaks of his team as ‘working with’ him not ‘for’ him.
Sharing the issues you face is key. My friend Kate’s husband always used to say to her that a problem shared is a problem doubled – and I can see why there are times you need to keep things to yourself, however worrisome. But on the whole, sharing and inviting people to become part of the solution can only result in their support, not their alienation.
The most skilled people managers I know already have an idea what they want to do, and how. But they invite their teams to brainstorm it with them, making them feel like the solutions are their idea. Unselfish to the core, but the reverse of dis empowering. They smile sweetly, knowing that all the while the team think they’ve thought of a magic bullet, they were leading them there all along.
Who knows what Theresa May would have achieved had she said, ‘Listen guys – these are the issues, come with me, help me find a way though… what do you think we should do?’ Instead, she hid the difficulties she was facing and dealt with them alone, thinking this made her stronger, whereas it had the reverse affect. Who knows, alone is exactly where she might end up…