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BREXIT & LEADERSHIP: The Biggest Thing You Can Learn Is The Danger of Giving Control To The Masses...

OK - most of you have heard by now of Great Britain's vote to leave the European Union - known as BREXIT.  If not, you might want to check your 401k performance at the end of the week - let's just say it's likely to be "down". For the unexposed, here's a quick rundown of what happened last week:

"There was a referendum in the U.K. on Thursday, and the question was pretty simple. Voters were asked, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Early Friday, it Washington-Brexit-Memeemerged that 51.9 percent voted to leave, while only 48.1 percent voted to Remain. Immigration and sovereignty concerns are the prime reasons that many people voted to leave. Europe is in the grip of a migration crisis, with millions of refugees arriving from desperate regions such as Libya, Syria, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Leave campaign went big on “securing borders.”

Pollsters had predicted the result would be close, but the world was apparently in denial. Indeed, even principal figures in the Leave campaign erroneously conceded defeat in the opening minutes of the count.  It was widely felt that Remain voters would prevail. It turned out that there were millions of “shy Leave” voters who decided not to tell pollsters of their true voting intentions. Critics say the government focused on selling “project fear” at the expense of extolling the virtues of EU membership"

Why would I write on this topic on a HR blog?  Well, it turns out there's plenty of leadership lessons here, namely the question of whether leaders should ever turn over control of mission-critical decisions to the masses.  

You can hate the decision or love it.  I'm somewhere in between - it looks complicated economically but as an American, people railing against 3rd party control resonates with me - I think that's in a lot of American's DNA.  But the leadership question remains - why would a representative democracy give up control to the masses on such a critical matter?  David Cameron, who is the current Prime Minister of the UK, gave up control of the BREXIT decision under some interesting circumstances.  Here's a description of how that went down:

"David Cameron, an avid Remainer, included a pledge to hold a referendum on the issue of EU membership as part of the Conservative manifesto in last year’s general election. It was part of an effort to dilute the appeal of the radical anti-EU party UKIP, or the United Kingdom Independence Party. The strategy worked—and to everyone’s surprise, he won an overall majority, and was therefore obliged to go ahead and call the referendum, which has now ended his career in humiliating style."

A big part of leadership is being able to guide your company, your department or your family through tough decisions.  Sometimes you have to suck it up and make tough calls. And surprisingly enough, a lot of your constituents want you to make the tough calls as a leader. Consider this gem from Brit and former Oasis founder Noel Gallagher on the wisdom of the vote from a leadership perspective:

"Do I think [Britain should leave the EU]? I don’t think we should be given a vote.

I see politicians on TV every night telling us that this is a****ing momentous decision that could****ing change Britain forever and blah, blah, blah. It’s like, OK, why don’t you****ing do what we pay you to do which is run the****ing country and make your****ing mind up. What are you asking the people for? 99 percent of the people are thick as pig shit (kd note - that's code for they are stupid).

[Politicians] didn’t****ing ask us for a referendum when they were going off to war, did they? No, ****ing assholes."

The leadership lesson?  If you let the your whole company make strategy decisions, you better know what they are going to say - you'll likely be surprised, and you won't be able to move away from the decision.  And the reality is that a lot of the people - like Noel Gallagher - don't want that responsibility. That's what they give you the money for.  You look weak when you give up control and then you're surprised.  Really weak.

I'll leave you with one more gem from the world of Noel Gallagher:

“I like the fact that it sounds like a cereal; a bowl of Brexit!”

Classic. Don't give up control if you don't know the answer.



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Gretchen Magnuson

Oh, Noel...words of wisdom.

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