Election Winner Will Learn the Teabag Theory of Leadership

Last Updated May 5, 2010 5:54 AM EDT

Our new Prime Minister will quickly discover the teabag theory of leadership.

Leaders are like tea bags: we don't really know what they are like until they land in hot water. Given the state of UK plc and the likelihood of a hung parliament, our wannabe PMs will be dancing in hot water for quite a while. And that is when we will discover what they are really like -- about one week too late to change our vote.

Anyone can look good in easy street. Lots of CEOs paid themselves very well during the boom before the credit crunch. But, it is adversity that tells us whether our leaders, our any of our team members are any good.

If crises make or break you as a leader, it pays to know how to handle them. The reaction of the emerging leader is very clear:

  • Take responsibility. In a crisis there is fear, confusion, uncertainty and doubt. There is a vacuum waiting to be filled. Fill it. Take the lead, offer a solution.
  • Focus on the future. Others may be analysing the past, playing the blame game. Many will be frozen with indecision. Focus clearly on what the desired outcomes is and what the immediate next steps should be. Don't worry about the rest of the plan: you can build that up as you go along.
  • Seek allies not victims. Instead of finding someone to blame, build a small coalition of people who are committed to looking forwards and driving to action. You will need all the help you can get: you do not get help by playing the blame game.
  • Drive to action. Even if the first actions go in the wrong direction, you can always reverse later. Avoid paralysis through analysis.
Equally, there are a few standard behaviours which mark the start of the slippery slope towards the exit door.
  • Denial. Pretend there is no problem and cover it up. Then watch as the problem spirals out of control.
  • Make excuses. Excuses are the rust in trust, and they destroy your personal credibility. Action beats excuses every time.
  • Play the blame game. " I said she said you said they said so I said and he said..." goes nowhere. Mud sticks to everyone and it simply breaks the team trust down.
  • Make half promises which are then not fulfilled, leading to a further round of excuses, denial and the blame game.
Far from avoiding crises, we should embrace them. They give us the chance to build our skills and to make our mark. They are the times we will remember the most. To paraphrase Dickens: teabag moments are the best of times and the worst of times. Make the most of them.

(pic: House Of Sims cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership