A few weeks back, I attended a Webinar organized by the YPO (formerly Young Presidents’ Organisation) on Leading Change in a time of crisis moderated by journalist & author Frank Luntz with former British Prime Minister David Cameron as the guest. The webinar offered actionable insights on leading change in times of a crisis. The topic of the Webinar was “A New Era of Politics and Economics” and he raised salient points on leading teams effectively.

  • It’s all about the team: The former PM emphasized the importance of the team as foundational to any successful venture. As prime minister and even before that, as leader of the opposition, he felt that his cabinet of smart, strong leaders made the difference. His comment reminded me of the book, “A team of Rivals” by Doris Kearn Goodwin, the US Presidential historian and leading a team effectively to achieve a goal. The moderator raised a question that stood out for me, “how do you work effectively with a cabinet or senior team when most of them want your job?” His response was simple — there are two types of people. Those who want to be part of a team to achieve something greater than themselves and there is the rest.
  • Only a few decisions will matter in the end: He talked quite a bit about the pressures that keep leaders from taking a step back and reflecting. He feels that there has been an acceleration in our ways of living and working that make it much more difficult to think and act wisely. Yet, reflection is key to learning about issues and making decisions. To quote him directly “It is key to separate the firestorm versus the really important choices”. Looking back, he realises that a few key decisions define his time as Prime Minister, not the myriad issues and micro scandals he had to tackle on an ongoing basis.
  • Your job is to decide: He talked about this concept as being applicable to all spheres of leadership. The higher you rise, the more you realise that there are difficult choices to be made, all-encompassing both real opportunities for breakthrough and terrible outcomes with indecision as the worst choice of them all. Ultimately, the job of a leader is to decide. This reminded me of Barack Obama saying something similar about being President of the United States. By the time issues rose to reach his desk, they had become impossible choices. If the outcomes were likely to be black or white, the long list of incredibly competent and powerful people below him would have pulled the trigger.
  • Leaders are both learners and teachers: The topics around teams and dealing with the media (mainly highlighted the need for developing a thick skin and use social media to raise your own voice) came back quite a bit but they were useful in framing what I took away as his motto for leaders: Learn and Teach. With regards to teaching, he centred the importance for leaders to explain daily to their teams and a constant reminder about values and goals is fundamental. Learning was more about always wrestling time from unyielding schedules to reflect and educate oneself about the key bricks that will form the architecture of your key decisions. His closing statement was: Listen, Learn and Build Your Knowledge.

These were really helpful insights I had knowledge of but, listening to him iterate these points was a reminder to prioritize my focus on what matters most as we sail through the many surprises this year has come with.