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Theresa May: one year on as PM
Business & Finance Series: Expert Comment

Leadership expert comments on Prime Minister’s one-year anniversary

How might the Prime Minister survive leadership crisis?

by Amy Ripley (Senior Communications Officer)

Thursday 13th July marks the first anniversary of Theresa May becoming Prime Minister.  Chris Roebuck, Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership at Cass Business School, considers her leadership style and how she might survive her current difficulties.

Opposing approaches

Professor Roebuck says the Prime Minister has fallen into the trap of trying opposing leadership approaches with the same people and this has revealed the weakness of both her position and leadership.

“This sudden change and the inconsistency will make people wary and suspicious. To move from a leader clear in her own mind and determined to push through her plan no matter what anyone else says, to the caring and listening leader who wants to hear other ideas will cause initial mistrust from the start.”

Behaviour change

However, Professor Roebuck says the Prime Minister may recover, if she changes her leadership behaviour.

“People tend to dislike overconfident leaders who don’t listen to others and they like it when these individuals encounter problems and have to then ask for help.  Often most people are then prepared to forgive past behaviour if there is seen to be a genuine change in behaviour.  That means, in the Prime Minister’s case, a genuine outreach to others across the spectrum to seek consensus, not just doing the minimum to enable her to push through her original plans.  If she tries to do this it will reinforce perspectives of her arrogance.”

Change of style

Professor Roebuck says a change of leadership style would give the Prime Minister an opportunity to demonstrate holistic leadership.

“For example, rather than just focusing narrowly on just escaping the EU she could use the opportunity to step back and look at how we take the nation forward into the future.  The post-referendum debate has thrown up significant issues around social policy, education and training, healthcare and the building of an agile economy, positive society and supporting workforce.

“Showing she cares about things and people other than just Brexit is crucial.  But others must consider it to be genuine.  If she shows genuine humility and builds consensus as much as possible this may just save her.  Humility isn’t weakness; it is strength, as Nelson Mandela showed. People can tell if leaders genuinely care, if they think they do they will trust and support them, if they don’t then they only survive a short time.”

Professor Chris Roebuck is Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership at Cass Business School.  View his most recent media appearances here or read his recent thought leadership pieces here

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