You’ve probably heard about the leadership crisis in the UK. New Prime Minister Liz Truss started positively but is now fighting for her political career after only five weeks in the job. What happened presents a key lesson in leadership. Any leader can learn a lot from this spectacular fall from favor.
What a first five weeks in the role!
Let’s review what happened over the past five weeks. Truss appointed Kwasi Kwarteng, a strong supporter, to the role of Chancellor, responsible for UK economic policy. Kwarteng announced a radical change in economic policy, reducing taxes and increasing spending in attempt to spur growth. Financial markets criticized the changes. In a time of rising inflation, increasing spending risks further increasing inflation. The policy challenged the financial stability of the UK, creating one of the largest economic crises in modern times.
Truss fired Kwarteng, announced a U-turn in her economic policy and replaced him with a rival politician, Jeremy Hunt. For many leaders, this would be enough to recover their credibility. Put the blame squarely on the person fired and move on. For Truss, this hasn’t worked. Her leadership has weakened further, leaving her ‘hanging by a thread’.
So what went wrong?
I use the following definition of leadership. “Leaders declare a future others commit to achieve”. You could argue Truss role modeled this. She gathered support in her party to win the race to become Prime Minister. But what went wrong? What led to a leadership crisis? While she gathered support in her political party she made two, possibly fatal leadership mistakes.
Her first mistake was not being open to test and challenge her leadership point of view. Instead, she confidently presented her policy, ignoring criticism. Leaders can’t win over everyone, so again you could argue Truss led strongly. But here’s the problem, and her second mistake. You can’t ignore the stakeholders whose support is essential to achieve your vision. You have to gain their commitment.
Truss not only didn’t gain their commitment, her policy was in direct conflict with them. Leaders have to tread carefully when following radical visions. It is important to challenge the status quo, AND you must bring along the stakeholders whose support you need. Winning over your supporters may feel good, but it may not be enough to ensure your success. Leadership is not a popularity contest. You have to get the right people on the bus to get to your desired destination.