Five ways Theresa May can boost her leadership skills

Theresa May must demonstrate collaborative leadership in her dealings with the DUPTolga Akmen/LNP/REX/Shutterstock
Theresa May must demonstrate collaborative leadership in her dealings with the DUP
Tolga Akmen/LNP/REX/Shutterstock

It has been a stormy ride for Theresa May’s premiership so far. Could honing her leadership skills as a successful business leader ensure her a smoother term of office? Anne Watson from In Touch Networks looks at five attributes the Prime Minister needs to demonstrate.

With the headlines awash with criticism over May’s leadership, notable resignations of key advisers and a barely changed Cabinet, the current state of play at Downing Street is far from inspiring.

Leadership has been anything but “strong and stable” and the Government has a huge task to not only lead successful Brexit negotiations but to re-inspire a disenchanted nation.

The matter at hand, while on a national scale, largely mirrors leadership issues from the world of business.

Looking inwards, the Prime Minister must gain full backing from her team, and by “team” that is those in the Cabinet, but also the general public.

Looking further afield, May must demonstrate she has influence on external parties, ensuring that the country goes into negotiations with the strongest hand available.

To do so, I would urge May to follow the same advice I would give to any business leader when hiring and coaching a non-executive director. In the same way a non-executive director must understand strategic direction to successfully guide a company, to do so well they must also understand the day-to-day detail.

The same can be said of the role May takes as Prime Minister. She must demonstrate these five key attributes sooner rather than later or she may find herself unable to complete her five-year term.

1. Integrity

May needs to lose her mantel as the queen of U-turns. The legislation set out in the Queen’s Speech is a watered down version of her manifesto, with the stance on Brexit downgraded from hard and the Trump state visit shelved for two years.

Within her Cabinet, David Davis took an unfortunate stumble on day one of Brexit negotiations when he was forced to concede that trade talks cannot begin before Brexit divorce talks, having previously insisted that talks over the timetable would be the “row of the summer”.

May’s team and the general public need to see her stick to her policies and be honest about those she will not be able to prioritise from the manifesto, while carrying the spirit of them into Brexit negotiations.

2. Objectivity

May lost her majority and took over two weeks of intense wrangling to come to a deal with the DUP. Going forward, she must find a way to work and act collaboratively in the interests of the UK. Leave politics at the door of the Commons and focus on that strong and stable future we heard so much about.

3. Accountability

It was a shame to see her two closest advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, resign from their position as joint chiefs of staff with the inference they’d led what’s been a disastrous campaign. It would help for May to take accountability and own the mistakes of the past year. A line needs to be drawn in the sand to be able to push ahead to more prosperous times.

4. Commercial awareness

The Institute of Directors quickly announced business confidence had plummeted since the election result and we have seen other influential business groups step forwards and plead for a Brexit that prioritises the economy.

Just as with running a big business, it’s not down to just one person to take our country through such contentious times.”

May should be quick to announce immediate pro-business measures to ensure we are not left disappointed with an increasingly stagnant economy as we go through the rest of the year.

5. Emotional intelligence

At this critical stage of political life, now more than ever Theresa May needs to be acutely self-aware, understanding how she comes across and what she has to do to influence others.

Her election campaign laid her open to criticisms of being detached and aloof, not able to engage and bring people with her. Intelligence and qualifications will not be enough to see her through the rocky months ahead of her premiership.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, emotional intelligence is twice as important as IQ and technical competence put together.

Now is the time for Theresa May to show the country her ability to understand people, to influence and convince, using her deep empathy with others to get people on side and find a way through.

Just as with running a big business, it is not down to just one person to take our country through such contentious times.

Alongside focusing on the personal attributes she needs to demonstrate, Theresa May needs to surround herself with advisers and peers who share her vision and bring complementary skills and experience to the table.

When we are working with businesses to boost boards with non-executive directors, creating a powerful blend of qualities and skills makes for a company that’s truly ahead of the curve.

Now is the time the UK needs to be seen by the rest of the world as a force to be reckoned with and this can be achieved through strong leadership.

About Anne Watson

Anne Watson is COO at In Touch Networks which has launched platforms including NonExecutiveDirectors.com and TheConsultantHub.com.
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