Electing a new Mayor – A French farce in London

19 May 2016

In some ways, the comings and goings of leaders can be like a French farce. Much slamming of doors and unexpected revelations; a barely coherent plot line; the odd salacious detail; and a heavy dose of stereotyping.

The election for the London Mayor threw up many fascinating moments in and amongst the usual dramas and shouty headlines. Jemima Goldsmith’s tweet “Sad that Zac’s campaign did not reflect who I know him to be…” struck a chord because it captured how everything is distorted during elections, and what is lost because of it.

It is impossible, for one, to think that the frequent linking of extremism and references to Sadiq Khan’s ethnic origin and religion weren’t designed to tap into a stream of Islamophobia: a heady mix of discrimination on grounds of both race and religion. It seems the appeal to prejudice didn’t work this time.

In politics and organisations we see the familiar pattern. The vilification of the previous Chief Executive, followed by the power battle to succeed which is so often damaging on all sides, with the effects felt for many months or years and the new leader emerging to brief adulation followed by disappointment and cynicism. Some Chief Executives simply cannot resist bad mouthing their predecessors, and it is seductively reassuring to do so. It briefly reassures those who are insecure, or who for whatever reason ‘haven’t got enough to give away’, which is my shorthand for people who have not managed to cultivate generosity yet, and who don’t understand that it damages themselves most of all.

I’m not holding out for the political world to change very soon, but I will celebrate when some do manage to behave with dignity and display strong leadership. Some of the best companies, however, refuse to allow the comings and goings of leaders to descend into farce and ensure these transitions show their values while demonstrating that they will build on strengths and be even better in the future.