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Brexit demands leadership, not just management

By Mal Fletcher - posted Monday, 23 January 2017

"I cannot give you a formula for success," said Herbert Bayard Swope, "but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: try to please everybody."

Rarely in its recent history has the UK needed leadership that's aware of that maxim as much as it does right now.

In the lead-up to Brexit negotiations and the inevitable emotional, economic and political highs and lows they will produce, this country needs bold leadership. I mean leadership as distinct from political management.


Of course, leadership and management are both valuable assets in times of potentially seismic change. However, only leadership will facilitate a proactive, inclusive, reassuring and empowering move toward the future.

As I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, management is focused on metrics, benchmarks, measurable targets and tactics. Leadership is fundamentally aligned more with shaping mindsets, discovering entirely new ways of doing things and mapping out longer-term strategies.

Management is, generally speaking, about structural engineering. Leadership is about cultural architecture; building a different cultural milieu in which people feel that they have the confidence and security to innovate and prosper.

The UK has been a part of the European Union and the EEC before it for forty years. The first test of whether the UK will flourish outside of the EU club will be the type of leadership it produces from here – in politics, civil service, business, the economy and much more.

As Brexit negotiations begin, this country – and Europe as a whole – will require a brand of leadership that is marked firstly by an ability to unite people, promoting inclusion without seeking to ignore cultural or aspirational differences.

In the UK's referendum the voting result was 52 percent for "remain" to 48 percent for "leave". This reflects how divided the community has become – on regional and, to some degree, generational lines.


The division is seen within local communities and even, reportedly, within families. Thankfully, most British people are far too sensible to allow emotions to spill out into violent protest or even unhelpful forms of civil disobedience.

Our politicos will be aware, however, that social cohesion is already fragile on some fronts. There is much discussion already about technology, health, wealth and opportunity gaps, which are widening for some sections of the community – and not just the poorest. We should hope that getting the best deal from Brexit will unite us more than it divides us.

For our political leaders, the challenge of promoting unity begins at home, in their own House. Many of the loudest calls for a second referendum have come from within or around Westminster – from MPs, leaders of political parties and even a former Prime Minister or two.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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