As the UK faces further uncertainty, we need to rethink political leadership. What attributes does the next prime minister need?
Theresa May has officially handed in her notice and nominations are now open for the next Conservative Party leader who will also take over as UK prime minister. May famously promised ‘“strong and stable leadership” but ultimately expressed deep regret that she had not been able to deliver Brexit.
May will probably be remembered for her resilience and stoicism, continuing to push through her Brexit deal with dogged determination. However, her failure to inspire others with her Brexit vision resulted in low levels of support. Her efforts at collaboration across parliament came too little, too late. Rather, she relied on a small group of advisors to negotiate a detailed deal with the EU which the majority of parliamentary colleagues – and UK voters – simply didn’t buy into.
While Brexit remains the biggest issue in this leadership election, it is part of a general climate of uncertainty. Recent political upheaval demonstrates that we need to rethink the kind of leadership the UK needs.
Of the candidates who have put themselves forward so far, Boris Johnson is the current favourite. However, his success is by no means guaranteed. With so many candidates to choose from, what are the leadership attributes that the new prime minister most needs to demonstrate?
In these uncertain times, the prime minister needs to provide clarity of vision and direction for the UK going forward as a nation, with a sense of purpose in the world about our contribution and the type of society we want to be.
With trust in political leaders at an all-time low, the UK needs an authentic leader who will tell the truth and hold others to account for honesty, respect all people as equal before the law, and uphold the universal declaration of human rights.
Rather than adopting a command-and-control stance, the UK needs an empowering leader to build confidence in others to make decisions and support people to assume responsibility as leaders in their communities. To drive the UK forward, an empowering approach can also support our endemic entrepreneurship and drive innovation.
The UK needs a collaborative leader to unite diverse groups of people across society, especially given the deep schisms following the Brexit vote. We need someone who can rebuild shared ways of working across communities, encouraging people to focus on mutual benefit rather than difference. In the face of multiple geopolitical challenges, the UK also needs a prime minister who can work with other nations to help build a more peaceful and sustainable world.
The new prime minister needs to be agile, keen to listen, to learn (if only May had learned from her initial mistake of not engaging with parliament), and to recognise the value of others’ views. The UK needs a leader who is driven by a desire to serve rather than by an ego – humble, adaptable, and in tune with the needs of others.
What politics can learn from business
In the fast-moving world of modern business, many of the most successful leaders have worked hard to develop the attributes above. Although the world of politics is experiencing seismic change, the style of political leadership in the UK is still firmly rooted in old-fashioned combat rather than modern collaboration. A new prime minister presents us with a new opportunity. Is it an opportunity any of the candidates can seize?