Be prepared

If you had known what you were going to find behind the door of the executive suite, would you have fought so hard to get hold of the key? Seriously: in what ways did your previous experience and training set you up for that last big promotion?

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
Leadership transitions are going on all around us, at BP, at GlaxoSmithKline, at Shell… and at No.10 Downing Street. And not for the first time, the business community is showing our political leaders how it should be done. If you were about to make a big step up, wouldn't you want to spend at least a little bit of time with the outgoing boss getting to know what the job was all about? Only Supermen (and Wonderwomen) can pull off "day one effectiveness" without getting their crusading capes in a twist.

Shadowing the previous incumbent for a while will be a lot more useful than going on a crash course at Harvard or Stanford. It stands to reason, as Alf Garnett used to say. But look at Gordon Brown, within touching distance of the nuclear go-codes, but still pretty well unaware of what it is like to run the country. What does it mean to have the Cabinet Secretary report to you? What is it like to chair Cabinet meetings? How does it feel when all those breaking news-stories are being referred up to you to see how they affect the government?

Business doesn't have all the answers of course. In the aftermath of all that delayering, companies are often asking managers to make very big step-ups themselves. But you can't help feeling that our system of government itself - never mind the hard-pressed public services - is the one really glaring candidate for a bit of famous modernisation.

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