It’s another year, so there’s another reason to vote in the UK! Yes, following a general election in 2015 and the Brexit referendum in 2016, we’re now in full election fever! Again.
As Brenda from Bristol said when this election was announced: “You’re joking. Not another one?… There’s too much politics going on at the moment.” (Brenda4PM trended on Twitter for a while after this outburst!) There was a similar sentiment at my local school where I am chair of governors.
Every election, the school is a polling station. I like it. I get a warm glow when I think of the connection between the school, the community and the democratic process. However, it does mean that on apparently random Thursdays for each of the past three years, the school will have been shut, making parents’ and carers’ plans for the day more complicated. Fortunately, just one parent has written to the school to let us know that they would like the school not to be a polling station in future.
Brenda’s reaction and that parent’s concerns are reminders that people are just trying to get on with their lives. They don’t see elections as some grand renewal of the democratic mandate, but more as an interference and disruption in their day-to-day existence. For those of us who are engaged in ‘issues of the day’, these reactions should give us pause.
Why is ‘why bother?’ an all too common response to exhortations to vote?
I’m reminded of a political joke. A politician dies and is told by St Peter he has to spend a day in hell and then after that he can choose where he’d like to spend eternity. His day in hell turns out to be a wonderful surprise! The weather’s great, all his old friends are there, they play golf and have a great time. He and his wife appears as they were when they first met and married, and they go off together for a wild night of passion! He returns the next day to St Peter, who asks him for his decision, and the politician chooses hell. And so he returns—but this time, it’s awful! People being tortured. Fire and brimstone. Terrible. Appealing to St Peter, the politician complains it was nothing like what he saw the previous day. St Peter’s smirking reply? “Yesterday we were campaigning; today you voted”.
Many people don’t think voting makes a difference, mainly because they don’t trust politicians to do what they say. Yet elections are won and lost on economic competence and leadership.
With the UK economy fragile at best and set for a serious Brexit-driven downturn at worst, current Prime Minister Theresa May is standing on a message of ‘strong and stable’ leadership. Ms May is so consistent and repetitive on this point that the Conservative Party’s very ‘on-message-ness’ has itself become a talking point in the election.
Linguist Deborah Cameron has pointed out that voters interpret this deliberate repetition of a single message as inauthentic, because real people just don’t talk like that. This just reinforces the electorate’s low trust in political leaders.
What do leaders need to know, to ‘win the day?’
When we coach company executives on strategy and brand, authenticity is an important touchstone. The best brands are built on values that are genuinely held by the people in charge. The most effective executives lead from those values, using them to guide their decision-making. By acting consistently in alignment with those stated values, they build trust and enjoy enduring, successful relationships with their customers and other stakeholders.
How will the world be made better by your work?
Leaders also need to be able to articulate a vision for the future—how the world will be made different by their work. Back in 2010, David Cameron articulated his vision of a Big Society. It suggested that all elements of society—communities, civil society, the state and business—could come together to improve lives. The idea was almost immediately pilloried, even by Conservative ministers, but it did inspire a useful conversation about the role of business in society.
During the same parliament, the Labour leader Ed Miliband talked about ‘responsible capitalism’ where business recognises it has responsibilities towards society as well as its shareholders. In his speech in the Google Big Tent in May 2013 he articulated this vision of people coming together for a common purpose—helping the country to succeed.
Whose vision will win Britons’ votes next week?
I don’t see the same visions of the future in this election. Instead, it is being dominated by Brexit and the fear of what it might do to the British economy. It’s a negative basis for campaigning and one that ultimately fails to inspire.
Leading from hope and abundance results in inclusiveness and cohesion.
What we need leaders in all walks of life to do is to establish a broad, inclusive and cohesive vision. Leading from fear and scarcity results in divisiveness and fragmentation—not something anyone wants in their organizational culture or their country. By contrast, leading from hope and abundance results in inclusiveness and cohesion.
At Junxion, we’re inspired by the work of leaders who express a clear vision for their organizations. In the case of the Vancouver-based charity imagine1day, launched by Shannon Wilson, whose husband Chip founded lululemon, they envision an Ethiopia where all children have access to quality education, free of foreign aid, by 2030. It’s a bold vision, and we worked with the imagine1day team to develop a strategic plan to deliver it. The charity now has a framework for action through 2030, with indicators of success to help measure progress along the way.
With the London-based performing arts school the Urdang Academy, we have helped develop a strategic plan that is guiding them as they work towards their vision for the world of musical theatre and dance to truly reflect the world around us. With their ethos of ‘everyone individual’ and access for all regardless of race, colour or size, Urdang has always been a pioneer for equality and diversity in the performing arts. Now the plan we worked on identifies capabilities across six areas they need to develop to create the future they envision.
How will you know you’re successful if you can’t state where you’re going?
Our political, business and charity leaders simply must be able to articulate an authentic, positive vision of the future. Only then will we be able to move forward together to create the future we aspire to enjoy.
Adam Garfunkel is Managing Director of Junxion Strategy and leads our UK work, where he advises business leaders on strategy and helps craft authentic and compelling messages for companies based in the UK and Europe.