In The Dark: Leadership Lessons From The UK Election

Last Updated May 4, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

I believe that the major parties in the current election campaign have committed two cardinal sins of management. These sins may help them gain power in the short term, but they will prevent them from achieving a mandate for real change.

As business managers and leaders I think there are lessons we can learn.

The first sin has been the parties' reluctance to set out an overall future vision, or articulate the direction in which they wish to take the country. I have little idea what kind of country and society they are likely to build, what level of ambition they have for improving things, and how we will know whether or not we are on track.
The Tories did set out their big idea, The Big Society, in their manifesto, but have since ignored this concept in their subsequent communications and debates. I have little faith that The Big Society is something in which they really believe and even less understanding of what this would mean in the real world if it were actually implemented.

The Labour and Liberal Democrats have focused more on the concept of fairness, but in the absence of a clearer picture of the society they are trying to help build, my takeout is that by fairness they mean that they simply want to share the misery equally.

The second sin has been the parties' refusal to articulate the scale of action required to reduce the budget deficit and associated debt, and what kind of change will be demanded of the country to make it happen.

In general, each party has set out plans that tackle about 20% of the cuts or tax rises required. When asked about the remaining 80% the leaders mumble something about the need to look at the books more closely, or argue that they have, at least, been clearer than the other parties.

The result has been a series of arguments about £6 billion of spending and taxation, rather than a deeper discussion of the £170 billion deficit. Perhaps the electorate would find the truth unpalatable, but the message from Greece is that prolonging the bad news is unlikely to help the situation.

People don't fear change, but they are reluctant to let go of today's comforts if they don't know where they are heading or if they are uncertain about how they can deal with the trials and tribulations they will meet along the way.

Your job as a leader of your business is to provide your people with this context. You must shine a torch through the dark to highlight where you are headed, the challenges you will face, and what people will need to overcome them.

In this election, the political parties and leaders have decided to use a candle rather than a torch to light the way. They shouldn't be surprised if, in the months ahead, the country is reluctant to follow them into the gloom.

(Pic: re_birf cc2.0)

  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.