Harvard Business Review

Britain's Management Challenge


Posted on Harvard Business Review: May 13, 2010 3:41 PM

It's early days, but David Cameron and Nick Clegg, Britain's new "first couple", are proving unexpectedly engaging and entertaining. After the drama of a hung parliament, some grubby political horsetrading, and Gordon Brown's rapid resignation, our new Liberal-Conservative government is swinging into action. And it's made politics interesting again.

The most fascinating question is how these two political rivals will share work together in a coalition, Britain's first since 1974, and only the second since 1945. At Wednesday's first joint press conference, Cameron was cruelly reminded of his jibes against Clegg during the campaign. The fact that both men could laugh at this was refreshing: "If I have to eat humble pie, I will," said Cameron. Both declared this to be the start of a new era in politics: "Until today we were rivals, now we are colleagues," said Clegg.

For some commentators, the arrangement is little more than an an adept political manoeuvre, an exercise in self-preservation by both parties. Yet there was no mistaking the freshness, optimism and idealism of the pair as they set out their vision.

It also strikes me that Cameron and Clegg are also setting out a blueprint for a new, shared model of leadership. In their case, the election outcome forced them to set aside party political concerns, work together, and hold each other accountable. But their approach could equally be used by any leader who, by circumstances or choice, has to work in partnership with a colleague or rival. Here are some common-sense pointers they might consider while making this transition:

• Focus on areas of agreement rather than highlighting differences in policy
• Listen to each other's point of view and be prepared to make compromises
• Be willing to take a risk, and trusting the other party in uncertainty
• Set aside past slights and work to build a courteous and friendly relationship
• Concentrate on the main tasks at hand (building a stable government, tackling the deficit, rebuilding society) rather than the (party political) details
• Remember your higher purpose (why they went into politics)
• Be mindful that leadership is a privilege, with duties and responsibilities

It will be fascinating to see how this working relationship unfolds and whether our new leaders live up to their early ideals. We will be judging them, both in regard to policy promises and how they work together. They have set themselves a mighty challenge and we shall be watching them every step of the way.

Of course, this type of politics is a novelty in Britain. What are your thoughts? Do you live in a country which is used to such power-sharing—or do you work in an organization in which leaders regularly engage at this level? As always, I would love to hear your views.

Copyright © 2012 Harvard Business School Publishing. All rights reserved. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School.

Gill Corkindale is an executive coach and writer based in London. She works with managers and leaders from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to develop strategies for business effectiveness and personal change. Formerly management editor of the Financial Times, she uses her journalistic skills and business insights to bring a new perspective on global management and leadership.

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