Rhetoric vs reality: beware the gap

Not so strong. Not so stable. We wake up this morning to results from the UK’s general election that are a disaster for the sitting Prime Minister who ran a lacklustre campaign that saw her personal popularity begin to decline after only a few days. On the other side of the house, the results were a victory for the main opposition party, and particularly for its leader who stubbornly drove a campaign that had passion and an appeal to the youth vote.

The general public can forgive a leader for a lack of passion, a personal characteristic which, arguably, you either have or you don’t. As long as there is substance, sincerity and maturity, a leader does not need to have a fist pumping, rousing style. It helps to have both obviously, but it’s a rare individual who has both. Without passion, there has to be substance and, like children, adults can sniff out leaders who are insincere or lacking in substance.

But what leaders cannot afford is to have any gap between their rhetoric and the action they take. And this is where Theresa May has failed. Catastrophically. Her mantra of ‘strong and stable’ was repeated so many times at the beginning of the campaign that we started to groan. That we could have forgiven. But as her actions began to reflect the opposite of ‘strong and stable’ – the U-turn on the cap on social care was just one example – the mantra became a laugh out loud joke.

So, leaders beware. The narrative for the vision can be created from a variety of sources: it may be the start point of the strategy or it may be the reflection of where the organisation has come from. But whatever the start point, it has to be reflected day in and day out by action. Action that the leader takes personally, and action that the organisation takes and which is of course guided by the leader. The leader may be able to get away with one deviation from that. But no more. The current Prime Minster had several.

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