As an English expat, I am watching with amazement the unfolding drama that surrounds the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
Appointed by his party to replace Tony Blair in 2007, he had already spent ten years as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the ancient name for the country’s Treasurer) – and presided over a time of apparent boom for the UK. He came to lead his country after being unopposed in the leadership ballot, and apparently achieved his life-long ambition.
And yet, two years later it all seems to be falling apart. There are of course, the effects of the global financial melt down, and it is true that UK is being hard it; but there are other countries equally devastated whose leaders appear to have maintained credibility.
Gordon Brown, on the other hand, appears to be presiding over a political party that seems determined to self-destruct. In just the last week he has lost six ministers from his cabinet, and the recent council elections proved devastating for his party. Losing their last four footholds in the council elections he appears to have lost control of England, and the expected result from the European elections may even prove worse.
So, as a leader, if you were facing this disaster, what would your reaction be? Would it be to consider what you or your organisation may have done to trigger this massive reaction against you? Or would it be to ignore that possibility and carry on regardless?
This is what Gordon Brown has said – “Speaking to Labour activists in London, the PM said he was “sticking” with people in their “time of need”.
Last week saw the departure of six cabinet ministers from the government and devastating local election results for the Labour Party, which saw it lose control of its four councils and its vote share drop to an historic low of 23%.” From the BBC’s website.
It was only last week that I asked if we were still confused about Leadership (and thanks to @wayneap [www.justleadership.net/home.htm] for the informative comments). I referred to Edwin Locke’s work on the Essence of Leadership, and briefly touched on the Four Keys that he believed essential to be a good and effective leader.
So if we are all informed about the traits and qualities of what constitutes a good leader, we could review them and see how well Mr Brown is demonstrating these qualities.
But out of curiosity, I thought I might do a little research on what traits we might find in those that demonstrate bad leadership potential, and see how this beleaguered Prime Minister measures up.
So I turned to Michael Maccoby, the globally recognised expert on Leadership with 35 years experience. In his book The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership, 2003 he says that many leadership failures can be traced back to personality type.
“Everyone has negative tendencies that come out when they’re stressed…For example, – [he says], someone with the obsessive type of personality will respond to stress in obsessive ways: micromanaging, nitpicking and becoming overly bureaucratic. Narcissists, meanwhile, often become grandiose, treat others with contempt and fail to listen to them” link
The recent election results may indicate that the country is sending Mr Brown a message; time will tell if he is listening. From the BBC quote, it appears that he may not yet have heard that message.
But, surely a leader who may appear to have problems is just one part of a team? Surely there are those around him whose role it is to support and advise him?
Barbara Kellerman, who is the James McGregor Burns Lecturer in Leadership, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government – has researched the effect that bad leadership has on their followers.
She published her research in the book Bad Leadership (2004) and she makes clear that
“… the way to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of a superior who is a bad leader depends at least in good part on understanding the nature of your role …There are, however, a few truths that apply in every case. Perhaps paramount among them is this: For a follower to resist a bad leader ain’t easy. It’s hard, and sometimes risky.” Link
If this is the case, and I know from my own experience that it often is, how are those recently appointed to the cabinet viewing their leader? Again, the BBC has the story. Reacting to the call from Lord Falconer (a prominent elder Labour statesman) that Gordon Brown should stand down
“…the new Home Secretary Alan Johnson – the man widely touted as a possible replacement for Mr Brown – told the BBC he did not agree with Lord Falconer…”I think Gordon Brown is the best man for the job.” BBC website
So Alan Johnson may also be missing the message.
While I realise that this is only a superficial look at the problems of poor leadership skills, even as I type there is worse news out of the UK; it appears that the protest vote has brought a member of the British National Party (BNP) into the European Parliament.
With his party sinking even further in the polls, Mr Brown is becoming more and more isolated from the people his was appointed to lead.
In 2008 Gordon Brown likened himself to Winston Churchill, however Churchill himself said it was “The nation [that] had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to give the roar,”
Perhaps I should have focused on the positive qualities of leadership, maybe there would have been enough of them to make a positive assessment of the future. Because at the moment, any change of position within the present UK government has an element of “moving deckchairs on the Titanic” – I can’t recall where I read it, but it seems apt.
Unfortunately, I fear that from recent events, it does seem that he may not fare well in any test of Leadership.
What are your thoughts?
Michele @ Trischel