As she stood in front of No 10 on 18 April to announce a snap General Election, Prime Minister Theresa May was quick to warn her detractors within and outside Westminster that the poll would end a time of political “game playing” over Brexit.
However, there are many who would argue that Mrs May has engaged in something of a game herself – taking a swing at the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act to put the nation through yet another anxious poll to consolidate an upper hand in the polls: the very type of impulse-driven behaviour that the Act was created to prevent.
Voters will also be aware that Mrs May announced in several interviews that there should be no General Election until its previously scheduled date of Spring 2020. The Prime Minister has undoubtedly made a strategically canny decision – but in the end, how ethical is her dramatic change of heart?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This one made me think about Winston Churchill’s maxim, ‘To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often’. It’s also made me think about how many times in the past few days I’ve heard John Humphries on the radio digging at his interviewees for changing their minds about things.
“But of course situations are going to change, and I think it’s not unethical to change your mind. It may be unethical to go back on a promise you’ve made, but any promise that a politician announces – especially given how world events and the leadership landscape are incredibly fluid – is only a decision or pronouncement for the time in which it’s made.”
Cooper points out: “You can be authentic about changing your positions, as long as you explain why. And I also think that while May’s decision might seem paradoxical, she wouldn’t have based it on just one, single factor. She would have considered many factors, and each of them would have been subject to discussion with various advisers. She may genuinely and authentically believe that this is the right decision and is going to secure Britain the best deal for Brexit. And she is also, to all intents and purposes, an unelected leader – so this will give her a mandate to lead with more confidence.”
Cooper adds: “What leaders should take away from this is a greater sense of how complex leadership is, and that leading effectively often depends upon the management of dynamic, rather than static, factors. Leaders are often faced with paradoxical situations, and must find the best way through them. If you can honestly and genuinely explain the reasons behind your decision, then people will understand that you have to adapt and respond to world events. Especially when you’re a politician on the world stage.”
For further thoughts on authenticity, check out this learning item on self-knowledge
Image of Theresa May courtesy of Frederic Legrand – COMEO, via Shutterstock