Why Brexit needs leadership based on kindness and compassion not soundbites and rhetoric

This morning, I am in a hotel room in Manchester watching commentators discuss the latest humiliation of UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, after every option of her Brexit plan was rejected by MPs.

As you will know, the news from last night is that she told her party she would step down if her Brexit deal is passed which seems like a desperate plea for support so that she can finish the job she took on. When this all started to blow up, I had some sympathy with May because it seemed like she didn’t stand a chance from the beginning, maybe because MPs from across the UK are afraid of what a British exit from the EU will actually mean for the country.

The longer things have gone on, the more embarrassed I feel as I watch the pantomime that our parliament has become and with recent events in New Zealand, it’s hard not to wonder where we might be if we had a different kind of leader at the helm.

It is clear that Brexit is divisive – it divided families and friends overnight with passionate views on both sides, often under one roof – so it needed leadership that could recognise all opinions and bring people back together, moving towards a shared vision for the future.

After the referendum in 2016, it seemed to me that what was needed was a cabinet of the best people from across all parties. Ok, this isn’t common but a coalition Government was in place under Churchill’s leadership during the second World War and working together now for the good of the country is just as important now as we negotiate our way out of the European Union as it was in wartime.

Evidently, May doesn’t share that view (or doesn’t have the skills) and she has missed the opportunity to unify, instead, widening the divide and creating even more conflict. The greater the challenge, the more determined she seems to become.  She has stuck to her guns but she clearly hasn’t inspired confidence and is now paying the price.

In a stark contrast, we have just seen New Zealand face their own man-made crisis in the Christchurch terror attack, with a leader who has reacted entirely differently; not with soundbites and rhetoric but with kindness and compassion. She has brought people together across New Zealand and been clear that she will take action to protect people and make sure this tragedy doesn’t happen again.

We have seen Jacinda Ardern with her people, sharing their grief, showing support and role modelling behaviours. She has shown people how they can join together in solidarity. She hasn’t just said it; she has done it. She has led a nation in mourning, not by standing out but by blending in and showing that she is part of the community too. She has shown emotion, empathy and humanity, standing out to the world as a modern leader who many would do well to learn from.

So how could May have followed this example to bring together a not so United Kingdom? Maybe she could have listened harder and shown some care for those who have found themselves in conflict instead of ploughing on without support. She perhaps could have tapped into those heightened emotions and spoken to the people instead of robotically trotting out tory lines that sound too cold for comfort. And she certainly could have found some humanity to show she understands the anguish that is out there on all sides instead of ignoring those dissenters and carrying on regardless.

Britain needs to be united behind a shared vision for the future and I hope that the next leader can recognise this and deliver success.
What do you think of leadership in relation to Brexit? Do you agree that a different style might have yielded better results? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ teaches us about power and engagement

“Now I’m awake to the world.  I was asleep before.  That’s how we let it happen.  When they slaughtered congress, we didn’t wake up.  Then they blamed terrorists and suspended the constitution.  We didn’t wake up then either.  They said it would be temporary.  Nothing changes instantaneously.  In a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you even knew it.”

This monologue sets the scene for an episode of the recent television drama ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, attempting to explain how the leaders of the Republic of Gilead came to be in power.  It suggests that they gained control by making small changes, bit by bit, until nothing was the same and they had so much hold over everything, there was no choice but to do what they said.

In the story, a religious dictatorship has taken control and its leaders introduce a strict regime within which, women’s rights are removed and a caste system introduced.  One morning, the main character ‘Offred’ has her debit card declined when attempting to buy a coffee.  She later discovers that this is because ‘they changed the law’ and women are no longer allowed to have assets.  Instead, they find that their money and any estate must be handed over to their male next of kin.

We are told that there is a serious problem with infertility in the Republic of Gilead and so fertile women are sent to families with standing in the regime where they find themselves forced to bear children for the family.  When the women are taken by the regime, they lose their identity.  Offred is literally ‘of Fred’ and we see in the programme that when a handmaid is reassigned, their name changes according to the man they belong to.

Children are taken away and second marriages are dissolved.

The dramatization brings to life the famous book by Margaret Atwood which was published in 1985.  Since its release, the book has won a number of awards and is a standard course text for English Literature students across Britain and maybe even further.  What makes the tale so chilling is the knowledge that when Atwood wrote the novel, she committed to only writing things that have actually happened in the world.  It’s quite scary to think that what we see in this show is or has been a reality for some.

The novel tells a cautionary tale of totalitarianism and setting it in Trump’s America makes it scary to watch as it feels conceivable that civilisation could crumble, allowing power to settle in the wrong hands.  As we watch the President’s first year, we see many rising up against a perceived threat to civil liberties and growing unrest makes many fearful for the future.

So how on earth can anyone gain so much power that they can make people live as we see in Gilead?

It begins with the construction of ‘them and us’ using negative for ‘them’ and positive for ‘us’, creating an enemy which people can easily be turned against.  The President’s travel ban is a good example of this as he sought to ‘protect the nation from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals’.  It created unrest across America and uneasiness amongst those ‘foreign nationals’ who live in the US and those who value diversity.  He has also been criticised for comments about other groups such as women (see Trump sexism tracker) and those with disabilities.

Those who agree with these views take strength from such comments and show how easy it is to ‘us’ against ‘them’ as we saw during the election campaign and more recently in Charlottesville.   Of course what these perpetrators don’t realise is in a culture where this kind of power has taken hold, no one is safe.

One of the key techniques in a totalitarian regime is encouraging people to turn each other in when they are not respecting the regime or its leader.  We only have to look to Nazi Germany, communist China and North Korea to see that a central part of retaining power is encouraging people to report those who have done something wrong.  Even a small misdemeanour can lead to death.  Punishing those who have done wrong and rewarding those who turned them over is the perfect way to reinforce the status quo.  An example of this is the so called ‘slut-shaming’ which encourages women to rat each other out and expose others who are then subject to further abuse.

I’m sure it isn’t just me that wants to hold on to my freedom and so the most important thing is to pay attention to what’s going on in the world and not be asleep while things are changing beyond your control.

Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale?  Let us know what you think it teaches us about leadership in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

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