Try emotion

In Africa, the Internet now provides almost universal access to global news. We’re no longer limited to stodgy newspaper coverage of national, regional and local politics. The daily trumpings of  Trump, and China’s campaign to secure the planet’s strategic resources for itself are now common conversational currency in Africa. Within that context, the unresolved agonies of Brexit (the UK’s unactioned resolve to leave the European Union) provide two salient lessons for organisational leaders worldwide.

The Leave campaign is primarily driven by emotion; the Remain by logic. Emotion won the referendum and logic has tried to prevent its realisation. Whatever your views on Brexit, it’s clear that emotion continues to win the war of attrition. As commentator Rory Sutherland  says in his amazing new book about ideas (Alchemy) Remainers don’t understand that saying ‘leaving the EU will result in higher labour costs’ is heard by half the population as ‘wages will rise’. Economic logic has no traction, because both the EU and the efforts to overturn it are political projects.

So, the first lesson for business leaders is that cold logic on its own is ineffective. If you order your employees to work every Saturday and Sunday because failure to do so will jeopardise company results, what do you imagine they will do?

I recently engaged with a company where the leadership team believe that giving orders  and demanding compliance is the only way to change business performance. They are learning a hard lesson about the limits of coercion: passive resistance and active sabotage surround them. Their response has been to issue more orders and be nastier to staff. If we manage to save this enterprise, we will have to address the weakness in its leadership.

Which brings me to outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May. She’s a godsend to me (not her country) because she provides the clearest demonstration of the difference between a Manager and a Leader. She is educated, methodical, process-driven and has been totally committed to delivering something she doesn’t believe in because she feels that is her duty. That’s the only point at which emotion has been allowed to play a role in her premiership. Everything else has been cold, relentless, persistent logic. And it has failed, so (logically) she now has to go.

In business, we call the process of building company culture to deliver a specific result ‘Alignment’. The most successful enterprises manage to persuade employees to deliver what their brand is promising, and therefore the desired business result. It’s more of an emotional task than a logical one, and it tests leadership… not management.

‘Marketing Medicine’ by Chris Harrison is now available worldwide on

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