Rob Donaldson

Written by: Rob Donaldson

Rob Donaldson

Partner, Head of Corporate Finance

Leadership...where is it?

This is the first article for a while as I've just been too damn grumpy to put pen to paper.

Why, you may ask? (And even if you don't, I'm going to answer anyway).

Mainly because the quality of discourse amongst our leaders, globally, is just so depressing that for a little while, this bear sat in his cave with a sore head and refused to come out. However, I've concluded that is no way to be. We can't give up just because our leaders are, for the moment, so particularly poor at leading. 

As we come to the end of conference season in the UK; where our leaders and those vying to be future leaders make their case, I thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the recent events and where we need to go from here.

Over the last 18 months we've had an unnecessary referendum that was called by David Cameron to unite his party (nice one Dave). A US election that produced the most divisive outcome imaginable (those tweets make you want to weep). An election called by an unassailable Theresa May to strengthen her government (which after a poorly led campaign achieved just the opposite). And now, a seemingly shambolic negotiation on the terms of Brexit that will expose many of the contradictions (a polite word for untruths) thrown around during that particularly ill-planned referendum.

It is, of course, easy to be wise after the event. We all make bad decisions. But leaders are supposed to lead. They are supposed to inspire a team, a business, a nation, a world to achieve more and to be better. Look back over the great leaders of the last couple of hundred years, the ones whose names will not be forgotten. In the US; Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Reagan. In the UK; Lloyd George, Churchill, Attlee, Thatcher. Sure, they made mistakes, made some bad decisions, and some will feel strongly they were not a force for good. But one thing they did try to do, was to lead the country forward.

What do we have now? Leaders who seemingly want to take the country back to an era that, through the misty haze of memory (only), was somehow better. Through a mixture of misinformation, false facts and a lack of reason, respect, tolerance or balance, we're led down an uncertain path. Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks on in amusement (if you're a geopolitical rival of the West), shock (if you're an ally) and despair (if you were hoping for inspiration from some of the oldest democracies in the world).

Is there any point to any of this rambling? Well, yes, kind of. 

Here in the UK, we face some momentous decisions about how we try to forge a constructive relationship with our most important trading partner. Whether we're in or out, the EU is not our enemy. Foghorn diplomacy bellowing demands from afar via the tabloid press, with only an eye on personal political gain, is no way to negotiate. 

At RSM we negotiate deals for a living. Aggression is occasionally part of the toolkit, but much more effective is the art of persuasion and seduction. Europe needs to see the UK as a constructive and valuable partner that it can forge a mutually beneficial relationship with; economically yes, but politically too. The hope must be that behind the scenes of the for camera performances, some serious effort is going in to build a consensual, hopeful relationship with, and a managed exit from, the EU. Is that too much to ask from our leadership?

Surely not. As for the current wave of populism (a school of thought where all the choices are easy and all the tough ones perceived to impact someone else), it may persist for some time, but I have some faith that most people realise at some level that politics is about difficult choices. In time, a new generation of leaders will emerge that will take us forward in a more positive way. Until then, hold on, things might get bumpy...

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