UK General Election Blog: A Leader to follow

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DNA project “to make UK world leader” trilled the headline on the BBC News website the other day.

Great, seeing as all attempts to find a truly great leader to represent the UK on the world stage had failed for far too long, we’re going to make one instead.

Of course, the story was actually about the UK’s ambition to be a global leader in genetic research – and therein lies a lesson for all sub editors.

But preferring the idea of the imagined story, it begged the question. What does it take to make a great leader, not just of a nation but anything, a large organisation, a small company, a school, a cricket team, a gang? Do similar characteristics apply?

Basically, if you’re looking to unravel and reveal the DNA of a leader, what are they made of? And once you’ve done that, can you use it as a guide for the future leaders?

Paul Hewson, aka Bono, is good at securing meetings with leaders. His front man status gives him top table conversations. When he goes in to an organisation to cause his particular brand of rattle and hum, he asks one question, who is Elvis round here? Which translates as, who’s the person that makes things happen? Who’s leading this place? It’s a simple criteria. Seems to work for Paul.

Of course, there are leaders and there are leaders, so what do the ones that Bono tracks down do that means they cause positive change, affect betterment and take people on their journey with them?

It’s a routinely asked question. And one that has filled numerous books and countless papers. Theories abound on the key character traits of a leader—from transactional to transformational leadership involving behavioural power, vision, charisma, intelligence even looks. Clooney’s getting in to politics right?

What’s true is that leaders rarely, if ever, seek the easy option. If you’d asked George Orwell he’d have told you that ‘”those who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time.” Bleak Mr. O, but we get it.

One thing’s for sure: There’s a market for leaders. Organisations are crying out for them. Because they’re the people others want to follow. And brands benefit from them in how they can propel and embody the identity, image and reputation of an organisation. Just look at the turbulent journey Barclays has had over recent times; leader required. Look at Tesco’s, experiencing a tricky time since their leader Leahy left the building; position available. Burberry has enjoyed an extraordinary resurgence under strong leadership and is now being viewed through wary eyes with the new set-up. Has Christopher Bailey in his role as both CEO and Chief Creative Officer become too deeply entrenched to keep the fashion brand watertight?

In May we have a General Election in the UK. Prime Minister Cameron was given the look of a top statesman on his recent trip to the White House when President Obama generously played all red carpet, but many believe the UK is in desperate need of a leader. That’s the thing, just because you’re in charge, it doesn’t mean you’re a leader.

Observers and supporters of the Labour Party have been grumbling about the shortcomings of leader Ed Milliband, many wondering when the real deal – brother Dave—will come home from New York. The Conservative leader David Cameron seems to attract despair and delight in equal measure. While UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage has proven he cannot be taken lightly, if not seriously, fitting then that comedian Al Murray should stand against him in his guise as the Pub Landlord. Last orders anyone? While Nick Clegg is only to be taken lightly, but nonetheless seriously—whip-hand last time round, amazing.

According to Napoleon Bonaparte, a leader is a dealer in hope. We’d agree with that. And we feel it is as simple as that.

Actually we believe lifting people out of today in to tomorrow requires a brilliant orchestration of three key things: Inspire. Include. Involve.

The elegance of John F Kennedy’s immortal phrase remains the finest example of just that. Inspire people with your vision, ideals and ideas. Include them in what that entails. Involve them in making it happen.

And then wrap that up with an image and voice that can be understood easily as a brand. Yes we can indeed.

The players looking to secure office in May 2015—and indeed anyone running anything that involves other people that needs an easily understood brand—should ditch the rhetoric and muckraking and do those few simple things if they want to be followed.

Over the coming months we will be looking to Messrs Cameron, Milliband, Clegg and Farage—and the Pub Landlord himself—and the brands of the parties they represent as they try to secure the votes to lead the nation. Do they inspire? Are they inclusive? Will they involve?

Can they lead? One thing’s for sure, following May 7, someone is expected to.

This piece is the first in our UK General Election Political Party Debate blog series, which aims to examine the communications and brand positioning of the UK’s four major parties through the lens of simplicity. As part of the series, our UK office divided into four teams that represent the major parties—Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP—who will post analysis of how each party’s actions are living up to their respective brand identities. Our teams are providing a professional and objective analysis for each party – they are not affiliated with these parties, or endorsing their views.


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