As we hurtle towards a general election, I thought it was timely to take a moment and reflect on what we want our country to look like in future years. We need to see beyond Brexit (whatever that turns out to be) and think more about our influence on the world stage. For this, I am going to borrow from a good friend and mentor Peter Anderton who provides some of the best leadership training I know (and I’m speaking as someone who went to Sandhurst). Peter has to rules of leadership, and I will apply them nationally rather than personally.
Rule #1: It’s Not About You
I have seen some truly awful leaders in my time. Turned straight out of the alpha-male, testosterone-fuelled, big-boy-pants jelly mould, these narcissists think that gutsy moves and bold gestures are all you need to take the team to a win. They are wrong at every level, and whilst their confidence may inspire under pressure, over time their lack of competence and character leads to a growing lack of trust.
Rather a leader should be outward looking; ensuring that those they are responsible for are well nurtured and encouraged. This is the model of the servant leader, and as an interesting aside, the motto at Sandhurst is “serve to lead”; I wish I had seen it adopted more widely. As a nation I believe we should view our spending on overseas aid with this paradigm. I’ve travelled to countries where the effect of the BBC World Service is, quite frankly, mind blowing. Yes, we all have concerns about BBC bias, but injected over the airwaves into a dictatorship or ideological theocracy, the World Service acts like an anti-venom, bringing truth, wisdom, and calm.
The way in which we care for nations less fortunate than ourselves defines who we are as human beings. I do not believe that letting millions die through famine or warfare is in our national psyche – just examine how much we donate at times of natural crises. But in order to prevent or minimise dramatic catastrophes, we need the slow, steady work of the aid worker, and this requires a credible level of financial support.
Put bluntly, the leader who merely looks after themselves is just a selfish oaf, and I have no desire to see Britain be put in that light.
Rule #2 It’s All About You
Anderton’s second rule neatly summarises the tension in leadership. In order to be able to reach out and help others, you need to be the best version of yourself that you can be. This does, in part, mean looking after yourself, keeping fit, practising what you preach. It means being the person that other people aspire to, because you do it with humility.
As a nation we should not be bragging about the size or growth of our economy, but striving to ensure we have the fairest society, the best healthcare and greatest sense of wellbeing. It’s an endeavour that will never end and there will be many times we fail to achieve our own goals.
By being the best that we can be – in every sense, we can develop a sense of national pride that is not based on jingoistic slogans, but because of a sense of “right-ness” or, perhaps the open-to-misinterpretation – “righteousness”.
I think the simple paradigm of these rules is a helpful guide to understand the nation we need to be. I would like us to be:
- More democratic by embracing proportional representation which encourages wider discussion and cooperation.
- Evidence-based in all our decision making.
- Compassionate to those who are less fortunate – both locally and globally.
- Healthier – in body and in mind.
- More productive (we currently lag other developed nations by a considerable margin), to the extent that we can work less hours and ultimately have a four day week.
- A leader in innovation that takes care of our environment, giving access to others for the common good.
There’s a shortlist to be getting on with. What you do you think?