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Established characteristics of British politics gone for good

The General Election this May will prove once and for all that the personal characteristics required to be an effective British Prime Minister are changed for ever, says head of world-renowned The Leadership Trust. Former Parachute Regiment officer and Goldman Sachs banking professional, now CEO the Leadership Trust, Rob Noble, says that this is not a bad thing.

This coming election is set to not just change the political landscape and the tried and trusted three party game of tag, but also the way the country and political parties are led. Whoever crosses the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in May will need to be resigned permanently to the notion of building consensus behind a common purpose, putting party politics and ego in favour of a new ideal of nurturing collective ownership behind national policy.Leadership in business has been an active topic of study in management academia for decades, with scholars developing different perspectives on this seemingly most enigmatic component of management practice. And yet leadership from a political perspective seems to have escaped with remarkably little analysis in Britain. With the UK, almost certainly about to enter another five year term under a coalition government, its greater study would be advised.

Previous models of government in Britain, under the single-party model – often looked at with a high degree of envy from other world governments who have long been faced with the ‘herding cats' realities of coalition government – were in many ways much more straightforward in leadership terms. Charisma, unorthodoxy, good looks or a sharp wit won't maketh a man (or woman!) in 10 Downing Street any longer, if they ever did of course! The likelihood is that we won't see the likes of another Thatcher or Churchill; we have changed and so too has good old fashioned top down command and control.

The past five years have shown that even an age-old Westminster system of government can evolve, having achieved to one degree or another more collaborative management and representation of a nation on both the global and domestic stages. But it has not been without its challenges, and of course as we head for another election, it reverts, albeit temporarily, to partisan-driven politics; at least, that is, until the election is fully behind us.

More recent trends around the world of moving from first-past-the-post government to proportional representation increased a shift to ‘consensus' democracy, characterised by multi-party politics and coalition governments; the adoption being seen by many campaigners as the way to instil wider confidence and satisfaction with democracy. In actual fact, such expectations were based not just on theory but also upon empirical evidence supporting the idea that a proportional representation approach enhances trust and affinity with a political system.

Whatever one thinks of proportional representation however, there is no doubt that given the UK's apparent disillusionment with the three ‘core' parties, British politics in the future will likely see a shift towards ever greater multi-party government, and with that necessarily a new style of leadership from the Prime Minister. It's interesting if not ironic that as Cameron has continued to wrestle with the anti-European wing of British politics, let alone within his own party, he has found himself getting closer to Angela Merkel, and, having been invited to her home variously a friendship of sorts has developed. Were Cameron to re-earn his place at 10 Downing Street, or indeed whoever succeeds him, he (or she) would do well to learn how Merkel herself has inclined much more towards winning the support of her opponents than winning one over them.

Her affinity with the consensus approach has worked exceptionally well for her over the years and is moreover contrary to the stereotypical concept of a ‘leader', entirely void of charisma. Her seemingly ponderous decision-making, furthermore, is in reality almost certainly more a case of her spending time building the consensus she needs behind her to ensure achievement of her objective. What I'm suggesting here is not that this is the de facto or ideal template for effective leadership, but rather that Merkel has successfully adapted – and some would say mastered – the leadership circumstances that she finds herself in, and made them work, both for her party and for her country of course. In a political system that is underpinned by foundations rested on consensus, she has been effective in winning the hearts and minds of those she leads towards a common purpose.

Over the past five years, some of the issues addressed may have only been possible by virtue of the fact that we had a coalition government with broader views than perhaps those of a single party. Of course it would be easy to suggest that consensus is a dangerous or nebulous thing, dumbing down creative, edgy or innovative thinking that in turn can drive effectiveness. That is not the case, which is where leadership, whether of a political party, a government or indeed a business, relies on the personal power and character of the incumbent leader.

By ‘power' one talks not of force of ego, but of courage. The courage skilfully to challenge opposite thinking and to put at risk the very elements which build the feeling within a group of consensus and collaboration. If opposite or challenging thinking within a group is managed skilfully, it can actually be a unifying force that not only fosters engagement and collaboration, but leads the group towards its collective goal, be that a political, economic or commercial objective. This last Government combining unlikely partners of Conservatives with Liberal Democrats has probably only addressed some thorny issues this term because of the broader views arrived at through coalition, whereas a single party administration may have left topics off the Cabinet agenda with no imperative to tackle a wider remit.

The next election, potentially the closest in modern British political history, is going to be a fascinating one. Two main parties slugging it out for a majority, made all the more interesting by the added yeast of SNP and UKIP in the mix, sets us up for a barnstorming contest.

Whoever fills the Prime Minister slot this time round, and that includes David Cameron, will need to hone and master a new and I would suggest enduring political leadership model, based on exercising personal power, winning hearts and minds towards a common purpose.

As they head towards the finishing line, all bets are off as to who in this election sprint will reach there triumphant, get the blue ribbon or will it be another photo finish?

Let consensus-building begin.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has suggested this week that the Scots should have a lower state pension age than the rest of the UK, based on their lower life expectancy. Tom McPhail, Head of Pensions Research, Hargreaves Lansdown: “We’re just in the process of equalising pension ages for men and women. Changing tack to create a new category just for the Scots is not something which should be undertaken without considering how it would fit into wider pensions policy. Once you deviate from a universal state pension age, why stop at arbitrary boundaries like gender or region? Annuities are already priced down to individual post code level and some Scots live longer than the national average. It would be lovely if politicians would stop making up pensions policy on the hoof for the sake of short term popularity. These kind of issues would benefit from independent analysis, which is why we support the idea of a Pensions Commission to advise government policy.”

Men and women will equalise state pension ages to age 65 in 2018, before increasing to 66 by 2020. The state pension age is due to rise again to 67 by 2028. Based on previous research by the NIESR and the Pensions Policy institute, Hargreaves Lansdown estimates that creating an exemption for the Scots and pegging their state pension age at a lower level could cost the UK as a whole around £1 billion.

Impact of post coding on annuity rates

Where you live can already have an impact on your retirement income; some annuity providers use postcode to price annuities. The lower your life expectancy, the more income you get: Here are 3 local regions from across the UK. It can be seen that residents of East Dunbartonshire have more in common with the inhabitants of Dorset (one of the highest life expectancy regions in the country) than they do with their neighbours in Glasgow.

East Dorset                     BH21     £4,847.64

Glasgow                          G1         £5,188.68

East Dunbartonshire       G61       £4,884.00

Based on a married 65 year old, buying a single life level annuity paid monthly. £100,000 fund. All rates are from a single annuity provider. Business leaders are concerned about their organisation’s ability to identify future leaders according to a new global study of executives from Korn Ferry (NYSE:KFY), the leadership and talent consultancy. In the second report in its “Succession Matters” series, Korn Ferry found that only half of respondents (51 percent) are confident that their organisation knows which candidates they should be investing in as potential future leaders, and only 52 percent are confident they have identified those who are “ready now” for specific roles.

Steve Newhall, Managing Partner at Korn Ferry Leadership & Talent Consulting, UK, commented: “While it’s true to say that most high potentials are high performers, it does not follow that performance is the only indicator of potential. Promoting the right people is key to ensuring a smooth transition in the development of a future leadership pipeline.” Survey respondents cited having the right competencies for a role as the number one factor for making a promotion decision, but nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said that a lack of well-suited traits and dispositions for a company’s culture was the biggest reason promotions fail. 

“The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are. It’s critical to take a whole-person perspective when promoting people, focusing particularly on drivers and traits, otherwise you run the risk of identifying the wrong talent,” continued Steve Newhall.  “That can mean wasting years of organisational investment and leaders’ time developing themselves for a role they won’t find engaging or be successful at.”

When considering who has the potential to rise to senior levels within an organisation, Korn Ferry research points to seven key signs:

1.  A track record of formative experiences

2.  Learning agility

3.  Self-awareness

4.  Leadership traits

5.  The drive to be a leader

6.  Aptitude for logic and reasoning

7.  Managing derailment risks

“All the seven signposts can be assessed and quantified. They enable us to predict which leaders have the greatest likelihood of rising up the ranks,” said Newhall. “Organisations can therefore be confident that their people investment is paying off.”

However, Korn Ferry recommends that company leaders look beyond the signposts of individual potential to the groups of people being considered for a succession management pool, including going deeper in an organisation. The Succession Matters survey showed that only 38 percent of respondents said their companies’ succession programmes included mid-level managers. “Companies need to identify those in their late 20s and early 30s who have the greatest potential to be future senior leaders, then manage their development and their careers to ensure they are ready and rounded when they need to be,” said Steve Newhall. 

While identifying high-potential candidates remains a key focus for organisations, high-performing professionals also need to be identified and developed within their functional areas.  Yet, only13 percent of respondents to the study say their companies’ succession programmes included skilled professionals.

“The skilled professionals are the ones that are very difficult to replace because they are your industry experts, so it's hard to replace that knowledge,” explained Steve Newhall. “You need to value and foster these people, making sure that you are giving them just as much attention as your critical leaders.” 

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