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What is your Waterloo

The history book on the shelf, is always repeating itself.

Recently I met up with a friend named Tony Lynch for lunch in London, and we found ourselves in an establishment called “The Wellington Hotel”, which was located just across the road from Waterloo Station.  It caused a moment of amusement when we briefly remembered the Battle of Waterloo and the role of the Duke of Wellington and his fellow combatants who routed Napoleon some 200 years ago in 1815.

The station also shares its name with the title of a song performed by a hitherto little known Swedish band as a representative of their country at the Eurovision Song Contest in the ‘70s, and they became an international success overnight.  After some years at the top of the charts however their popularity started to wane, and suddenly it was “uncool” to acknowledge that you liked anything Abba related.  After a few more years they became fashionable again, and soon Abba tribute bands were emerging all around!  Evidently, some strong influences were about to cause a musical talent to meander between such highs and lows of popularity.

It is interesting to see how popular culture can have such an enormous influence on the fortunes of a band, and fascinating to see the impact it can have on the careers of those affected.

There are few career choices that are more demanding and challenging than those found in leading a country.  Now, although I wouldn’t claim to be either a politician nor an authority on politics, as an interested observer the current political environment seems to offer some fascinating observations on the question of leadership and influence.

As I write this blog the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has introduced us to a new and curious dynamic of influence, and one that seems to have his party confused in how to respond.

At the close of the 20th Century, a charismatic young Tony Blair swept to power on a new wave of influence, with “New Labour” having taken the centre ground of politics after nearly 20 years of conservative government.  Although finding himself vilified by many today, while he was in power he was a hugely influential Prime Minister in many ways.  After his 10 years as the British Premier, he resigned in 2007 and he was followed by his Chancellor Gordon Brown, who although very competent was unable to demonstrate any significant influence on a country soon to be gripped by a financial crisis and was defeated at the next election.

Since then the Labour party seems to have been having trouble finding its identity, with several leaders taking it back to the more traditional left-wing roots of the party.  This brings us back to the most recent of these, and the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.  An article from the BBC stated:

Jeremy Corbyn’s election in September 2015 as Labour leader, at the age of 66, counted as one of the biggest upsets in British political history.
Brian Wheeler

His nomination was a late addition to the ballot paper with just minutes to spare, and as he explained to the Guardian Newspaper:

“Well, Diane [Abbott] and John [McDonnell] have done it before, so it was my turn.”
~ Jeremy Corbyn

He then proceeded to gain an unexpected victory with an overwhelming 59.5% of the votes cast and was elected leader of the Labour Party.  His influence as a leader though was not universal with little support from his fellow Labour MPs, and when two-thirds of his shadow cabinet resigned he was forced by a vote of no confidence into another leadership contest.  In this, he retained leadership of the party and increased his share of the vote to 61.8%!

His enormous influence and support with the grassroots of the party membership were clearly not shared by all the MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, and time will tell where his leadership of the Labour Party takes them.

Now, to be effective in leadership has a lot to do with influence, and we’ll return to look at the leadership issues related to the recent referendum vote by the British people to leave the European Union in another Blog Post.  For now, I just want us to see the enormous effect that influence has on leadership.

During his time in office Tony Blair had enormous influence, and when he took over it was soon evident that Gordon Brown didn’t, and Jeremy Corbyn has quite a mixed circle of influence.  So, how has that affected their ability to lead?

John Maxwell asserts that:

“The true measure of leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less. Leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. Influence cannot be mandated, only earned. Lack of an official title doesn’t preclude you from leading, nor does having a position of authority qualify you to lead.”
~ John Maxwell

The only way that anyone can lead effectively has nothing to do with position or title, and nothing to do with entrepreneurial skills or with knowledge.  It has everything to do with their ability to influence the people that they are to lead.

“He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk”
~ John Maxwell

What are your strengths, and what are the factors that you use to persuade people to follow you?  What do you need to do to use your strengths to their best advantage to gain influence, and what are the factors that you struggle with that hold you back and need to be reinforced?

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.