General management

Take people with you

It’s slightly egocentric to look at someone doing their job and imagine yourself doing it instead, and it’s naive to look at the work of world leaders and declare that they’re doing it wrong. So in this post I’ll do both.

Here in the UK the prime minister, Theresa May, is trying to implement Brexit. The story so far (end of November 2018, and things will have changed dramatically even by the start of 2019) is that the country voted to leave the EU, the prime minister has negotiated a withdrawal deal with EU, but she now needs the backing of the UK parliament to be able to implement it. Once she has that the next step will be to begin negotiatons on our new trading relationship.

But while Mrs May has survived all manner of problems to get to this point (including the resignation of 19 ministers and other government figures, and various letters of no confidence from her own MPs), it looks very unlikely parliament will approve her deal. The Guardian has a little game to see if you could get her bill voted through, handily setting out the various parliamentary factions that need to be won over.

To me, one of the causes of this current problem is the same thing that’s served her so well so far: her absolute, resolute determination to make this happen. That determination has meant she’s not (visibly) wobbled in the face of so many challenges. But it’s also meant she has negotiated her own deal with the EU, without consultation with her own ministers, let alone her own MPs, parliament or the country more widely.

In corporate settings I’ve seen similar things—and been guilty of it myself. Someone wants something to happen, they see a solution, and they push that solution forward. But their peers and colleagues feel as if they don’t own it, so when it comes to winning hearts (and, to a lesser extent, minds) the support is missing. Very often that means the solution doesn’t progress any further.

By contrast, when people are consulted, and especially when their views clearly influence the process and outcome, then there tends to be be much more support. Even if it takes longer to get to the solution, at least it progresses much further. And it doesn’t matter if the resulting solution might be the same as it would have been otherwise—Theresa May might be correct when she says this is the only way Brexit can happen within the constraints she has set herself. What matters is that people feel they’ve been listened to.

Sorting out the remaining problems of Brexit is left as an exercise for the reader.

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