Leadership lessons from Boris Johnson

Leadership lessons from Boris Johnson

Although recent events haven’t been too kind to Boris Johnson or shone a very positive light on his leadership skills, there was a time in the not too distant past when he was the candidate that united the Conservative Party. Through his seemingly solid “do or die” promises and ability to appeal to different groups within his party, Boris was elected as the leader of the Conservatives which, in itself, is no cakewalk. Since then, through a number of accidental blunders or misjudged political moves, Boris has lost his majority and a number of his MPs; something that is currently being written about by practically all of the political columnists and opinion writers in the country.

But is there anything from the last 18 years of his political career that leaders can look to for inspiration? Despite the recent slaughtering he has received in the press, the answer to this question is yes. There have been times over the course of his career where he has shown great leadership skills and initiative – anyone who finds themselves in charge of a country must have done so at some point.

Boris started his political career as the MP for Henley, and his rise to Prime Minister has required him to be both patient and resilient, but often also brash. Even though some may not like his style of leadership, if Boris gets it right then he can be very effective, and I think we’ll see lots of people get behind him – which is precisely what happened after Theresa May stepped down and the battle for the Tory leadership ensued.

In such uncertain political times, members of the Conservative Party chose Boris because he was confident, assured and unrelenting in his promises – particularly his promise to leave the EU by October 31st, with or without a deal. While this style of direct leadership may be effective in times of chaos, it can be undoubtedly unnerving for many people, which is most likely what has caused so many Tory MPs to defect since his term began.

In some ways Boris’ rule started off reasonably well, effectively making a breeze of the Tory leadership race. However, because of his often-unnecessary brazenness, confidence in his ability as a genuine leader is wavering by the day, as it appears is his own self confidence; something that is evident from the heated debates gripping the house of commons over the last few days. He is yet to win a vote in the house and suddenly it seems that maybe Boris doesn’t have what it takes to do the very job he’s worked his entire career to attain.

For leaders in any sector, whether it be business, politics or education, making sure you don’t overstretch your assertiveness and urgency into a sense of panic and chaos is the key point to take away from Boris’ start to life as PM. Although the almost militant style of leadership works for pulling people in your chosen direction in times of uncertainty, once you’ve got them to the final destination (or been elected) your leadership style should change – something Boris has yet to do.

Perhaps another one of Boris’ leadership tendencies which has really come to the fore since he took up residence in No. 10, is his habit of putting out potential fires with often hypocritical statements, while also trying to distract people from the issue with ‘shiny things’. When being pressed from all angles in the house of commons last week on a variety of issues, including derogatory statements he made about Muslim women and other BAME groups, Boris proceeded to say: “Britain needs sensible, moderate, progressive Conservative Government” – something which quite clearly contradicts his current style of leadership.

This highlights another take-away from Boris’ behaviour and the reactions he’s faced since taking charge. People want a leader who is culpable for their own actions, and honest in the face of a genuine accusation. No one finds it easy to trust someone who, despite being completely found out, is still trying to shift the blame elsewhere.

This leads onto my next point, which is that for leaders around the world, there are just a few things people really care about when it comes to following you and getting on-board with your beliefs; do they care about me, can I trust them, and will they get the job done?

When it comes to leading a group of people, whether it’s a group of employees, a football team, or an expedition to the tip of Mount Everest – your followers must be able to answer at least two, and preferably three, of these questions with: ‘yes’.

Boris Johnson’s leadership was at its best when he was battling for the Tory leadership, offering a committed and stern alternative to replace the widely panned Theresa May. However, that style has almost no real value in his current situation, and a change of direction, in my opinion, is overdue.

To put it into everyday terms, imagine if your company’s CEO suddenly started telling employees that if they didn’t agree with his plan for the business, they’d be sacked and all of a sudden 20 people are leaving the business from an array of different departments because they’ve lost all confidence in the company’s leadership. You’d hardly feel comfortable walking into work in the morning, and the overall mood in the office would be far from positive. This is the current state of affairs within the Conservative Party, except instead of just being in charge of a single business, Boris is in charge of the entire country, and its future.

Rita Trehan
Rita Trehan

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