Faking the Lead

The absence of our Prime Minister from the General Election candidates’ debate has fired a discussion about leadership. As the PM, you are the public face of your brand. You set the corporate culture. You scope your ideas carefully, disseminate them intelligently, and delegate them strategically. The refusal to debate them suggests a failure of judgement, confidence, process, policy, and accountability.

Coincidentally, in the same week, a business boss – the British Airways Chief Exec – did not appear in public until three days into the airline’s global computer meltdown.

Across the developed world messianic leaders with binary ideas that impact race and religion, gender and dress, frontiers and movement, are on the rise. Journalists are murdered. Activists and artists are imprisoned. Creativity and self-expression is being threatened by those demanding borders on everything from land to sexuality.

Against this background the refusal of our Prime Minister to support the democratic process is disappointing. Leadership is about being seen and heard. In a world of rolling news and trolling views, leaders must visibly demonstrate grit, savvy, and certainty.

Public engagement requires narratives that inform and excite. The UK’s other party leaders are consistent on form and content. From Corbyn to Sturgeon, Farron to Lucas, each has a clear voice, an explicit agenda, and a branded vocabulary that sets them apart. Mrs May, meanwhile, has lost her voice and the strong and stable lexicon. What now?

Today the British Airways’ Chief Exec was back in his box. Former CEO Willie Walsh stepped forward instead, to defend the company’s handling of the computer crisis. For Mrs May, her place at the lectern was filled by Amber Rudd. These sleights of hand might work in fiction, in War Horse and The Muppet Show, but it looks shoddy here…

The best leaders don’t just deliver success, they navigate and learn from failure, using every punch to find new ways of telling their stories. Mr Corbyn is side-swiped from all directions, but jumps up and wades back in. Ms Sturgeon never misses a step.

British Airways will survive. It always does. Mrs May will survive. The polls still have her ahead. But if she doesn’t create a credible narrative quickly, her majority will diminish and the story of her leadership will not be that of electoral success, but the loss of public confidence in the bloody difficult woman who has to deliver Brexit.