Having run a business for 25 years, I consult on a wide range of business and leadership issues. This requires me to help enterprises create sustainable strategies, make difficult decisions and resolve complex or so-called “wicked” problems. I decided to use my knowledge, skills and experience to offer some advice to Theresa May on the incredibly “wicked” problem of Brexit. Here is my 3rd open letter to our Prime Minister, in the hope that it inspires others to action. You are invited to sign the open letter here. We plan to deliver the letter to No 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 27th February at 16.30.
Dear Prime Minister Theresa May,
I write to offer my unconditional advice and support to the persistent and chronic problem of Brexit, which continues to baffle and befuddle the brightest minds on the planet, whilst the vast majority of the population are bored to death with the topic. I will only look at your personal leadership here, having already written to you on the subjects of Brexit strategy, business and industry, the art negotiation and conflict management within your own party via Newsleaf and Voices for Europe.
Before we turn to Brexit, it is worth rehearsing the last 100 years of leadership thinking via an extract from the book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise”. Ever since Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War some 2000 years ago and then The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli around 500 years ago, views about leadership have continued to change and develop. We started to study leadership systematically around 100 years ago, beginning with the idea that certain traits were more or less suitable to be a leader, much in the same way that psychologists used to believe that the shape of people’s heads would determine their suitability for brawn or brain-based work. Basically, the idea was about nature (i.e. you could only be a leader if you had the right genetic material). There was nothing you could do about it if you did not have the right traits.
In the early 1900s, Taylorism or scientific management dominated, which suggested that work could be organised for the workers. Henry Ford exemplified Taylorism. He organised his factories for maximum efficiency, based on a control and command model. I sense that you would like to emulate Ford’s idyll in your leadership style, yet Brexit is not a car plant, there is not one model T May Brexit. It also seems likely that Brexit Britain will not even have any car plants, plants or planters in the country if you continue with this outlook on leadership.
Later on, leadership ideas emphasised the human being as the epicentre of what a leader could reasonably achieve. The emphasis was on the idea that a leader could adopt a particular style and flex that style, almost at will. This has continued into the twenty-first century via people such as Daniel Goleman, with ideas based on “emotional intelligence”. In the last 20 years or so, the task of leadership has also shifted focus towards the management of complexity, uncertainty and the unknowable through the seminal work of Ralph Stacey and the ideas of “wicked problems”, of which Brexit is a prime example. David Cameron’s core mistake was to attempt to tame the wicked problem of Brexit into a binary referendum. If I may be so bold, I suggest that you have continued to gold plate this mistake, by reducing everything to digital choices e.g. deal or no deal.
There are no magic bullets here, as time is not on your side, but I recommend that you focus more on an analogue approach to leadership before your party haemorrhages more people. One that genuinely consults and considers alternatives to the current devil or the deep blue sea approach. I also realise that this may not be in your nature and I realise you are operating under immense pressure from all sides. This is the peril of accommodation with extremists within your party and I covered this issue under conflict management in my first letter to you.
Authenticity and Trust
With all due respect I believe you have a crisis of authenticity within your party and, in particular, with your leadership. You and your party have systematically devalued the currency of trust, the oxygen on which all relationships rely, in business, politics and life. Quite simply you have said one thing on one day, quite another the next without apology, rationale or taking others with you. This may well enable you to survive the current battles with the EU and your own party, but you are storing up terrible problems for the future, in terms of the coherence of your party, the country and our relationships around the world. The devaluation of trust has been rapid and some of your key actors are also responsible via public statements such as “you need us more than we need you” and “fcuk Business”.
Simply threatening not to pay the £39 billion “club membership fee” is a case in point. There are only two occasions in life when it is possible to avoid paying a bill you owe. One is when you are fixing to die. The other is when you have no intention to ever trade with anyone ever again. Consider the simple analogy of a plumber who decides not to pay his trading suppliers and partners. Word of web travels faster than a dose of herpes in a hippy commune. Shortly after, the plumber’s “Trust Pilot” score is reduced to minus figures and he ceases to trade. I imagine that the UK’s “Trust Pilot” score must be -300 with the various threats made to the EU, none of which can really be enacted without serious negative consequences.
Be yourself more
I am myself a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Master. This is the area of psychology that helped Vote Leave to win the referendum through the selective use of language and gaslighting people to question their own sanity through spinning lies such as 75 million rapists waiting to enter the UK and £350 million for the NHS. NLP has other positive benefits as well as its bad press here. After all, tools are neutral, but they can be used for good or evil by people. One such benefit of NLP is the ability to read body language extremely well. It is patently obvious that you are totally conflicted about Brexit. Anna Soubry pointed out that you only want Brexit to help finish your job as home secretary in terms of ridding the UK of immigration. Yet it is patently obvious that Brexit will not deliver this ambition, with open borders, real need in the NHS, social care, high technology and agriculture etc. and the fact that many other nations will stipulate free movement of their citizens as part of any trade deal. I fear that this inner conflict with impact on your own health. I have written a book called “Let’s Talk About BREX .. it” which explores the positive and humanistic uses of NLP to counter the dark forces that are now attempting to rule our political and cultural landscape. Whatever happens about Brexit we will need to heal the country. I recommend that you read it to supplement the advice in this letter.
Your leadership will ultimately be judged by the legacy you leave in the history books. Take courage and cancel Article 50 now. This is your binary choice: Continue with Brexit and you may as well let James Goddard run the country. You will go down in history as the woman who destroyed your party and the Great Britain in one move. End Brexit and you will have the majority of the country behind you. You may even save your party from oblivion. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, you will be known as “the woman who turned”.
All the best,
This is an open letter written by Peter Cook and it is to be noted that our contributors views are expressively their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Europa United.