Now that the dust has settled on the 2017 General Election, what can we learn from Theresa May’s leadership decision to call a snap election?
The realities of leadership – what we’ve learned from Theresa May
The first lesson is that who you are becomes amplified, whatever your own leadership challenge. The larger the leadership scope, the more your strengths and weaknesses are in the spotlight. And it won’t be just you who is discovering them. If you’re a new Chief Executive, the whole organisation will be scrutinising you. If you’re the Prime Minister of a G7 country, it’s the whole world. For politicians, plenty of newspaper columns will be devoted to analysing you, your past and your future.
As a leader, you’ll need to be comfortable with this. Theresa May’s ill-fated ‘fields of wheat’ comment in the run-up to the election highlighted the potential damage of not doing so, for all to see.
In the time-critical, national-scope climate of a general election, a leader has to make decisions based on imperfect data. In this case, it was the polls, as seen in the accusations of hubris and complacency levelled at the party in power after last week’s shock results. Leadership decisions, and ‘snap’ decisions especially, have huge consequences for your immediate team, the wider organisation, and the public at large. At times like these, you need strategies in place for thinking through the risks, costs and benefits before taking any action.
In Theresa May’s case, the frameworks and strategies that worked when she had a powerful enough role – as Home Secretary – nonetheless needed to change when she ascended to the next level of leadership. We all have strategies and experiences that we rely on to guide our decision-making. And when we’re really busy or under pressure, it’s hard to make time to challenge ourselves to consider alternative approaches and embrace a diversity of thought.
Leadership challenges – how to prepare ourselves
So what can leaders do to make sure they’re ready to face the next challenge? There are a number of practical things leaders can do to help ensure they respond in the best possible way.
1. Make sure you’re listening to different voices.
Engage with people from different walks of life within your business who may see the world very differently from you. It’s important to pay attention to people who can bring different perspectives into your own decision-making process.
2. Invest in yourself.
Make time to explore your strengths and weaknesses. This is where an executive coach could prove very useful.
You could also benefit from leadership development programmes like those accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). ILM programmes can help you to develop various leadership frameworks, and the more frameworks you have access to, the wider your thinking and the more robust your final decision-making.
As you grow in your job, your frames of reference will always need to change and evolve. And it’s hard – almost impossible – to do this without external input. Ultimately, the more tools at your disposal, the more ready you’ll be.