MT People: Why leaders can create optimism

Great leaders can transform negatives and use them to achieve their goals.

by Chris Bones
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Change is difficult. In organisations managing it effectively is a major differentiator between success and failure in the competitive marketplace, in delivering public service or in effective co-ordination of a voluntary organisation. We all know that however positive you start out to be in a change programme, the focus at some point will inevitably slip away to the negative. Great leaders in change, however, can transform negatives and use them to achieve their goals. The challenges get even greater when you set out to change a country. Regardless of how pressing the need, winning support for change in UK plc presents the same hurdles and challenges.

The extraordinary election campaign we have just witnessed is a great example of this phenomenon. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg each started the campaign offering us their own versions of positive change. By the time the public response to the TV debates had propelled Mr Clegg into equal contention we were treated to the unedifying spectacle of those with most to lose and their supporters in the press stoking the flames of fear as the change the public responded to seemed to be threatening their very existence. If we voted for Clegg we were going to get Brown, Cameron, Greece, immigrants, weak government and probably bubonic plague as well. Well, many of us took fright but the result of all the negativity was exactly what was threatened by the opponents of real change: a balanced parliament.

Our new coalition leaders are saying the right things and making clear statements about their intentions to go the full term. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have taken a brave decision to begin the change many of us want to see in UK politics: when it gets tough and goes wrong their ability to lead and work together will define whether or not the change they want will happen or whether we'll return to business as usual.

Out of the result of all that resistance to change could come a fundamental shift in how we do politics in the UK. A less combative more collaborative approach to the massive problems that face us is an outcome I for one unreservedly support. After all, the lesson from business is that this is what underpins some of our most effective changes. Regardless of how you voted, the one thing we can all agree on is that we have to deliver significant change in UK plc and when major change is needed, we must ensure the widest possible base of support.

- Chris Bones is the dean of Henley Management College

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