Leadership and Authenticity Lessons From PM Cameron to Miliband

When it comes to leadership, the quote ‘If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made’, is often attributed to former Labour PM Blair. Good leaders need to be authentic, but what does that mean? Here is a masterclass on authenticity and leadership which Ed Miliband could well take from PM Cameron. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Ed really needs to sack his media advisors – they’re from another age.

  1. Authenticity is Passion, Mirroring is Important; Being Your True Self

In the UK election, the widespread view has been that once the PM rolled up his sleeves, killed the tie and started speaking with energy and passion, he was all of a sudden much more captivating. Is this fake? No, it is the PM being his true self — unconstrained by suit, tie and the uniform of Westminster. It is only when you let a leader ‘be him/herself’ that you find out if they are fake or the real thing. PM Cameron started winning, hands down, once he’d come out as the ‘real him’, showing that he does care about the people, not just power.

The public are very good at spotting authenticity. It’s probably an evolutionary trait for self-protection. And they are very good at it when they have a face to face comparison they can make, as in the recent TV debates in the UK between the political party leaders. Of course, sometimes we are duped, for a short time (‘tricky Dicky’ managed to dupe the American public for a while, but not when up against Kennedy). Passion is authenticity, it is caring, it is being liked by your audience (who are there because they care). So the rolled up sleeves and no tie helps to show passion and mirrors the audience more closely. 

  1. Not too much passion

When Hillary Clinton during her failed election campaign pretty much started crying because of her love of America, that didn’t work in her favour. Passion from a leader – yes! — but not to the point of weakness. When Miliband was asked by Jeremy Paxman in a TV debate if he ‘was tough enough to be PM’, the Labour leader struggled to bury the idea that he is weak and soft and not up to the job. Phrases such as ‘heck yes, I’m tough enough’ didn’t ring true. In fact, off camera, Paxman could be heard asking: ‘are you alright Ed?’ His attempt at passion came across too much like he was going to cry. Sitting back, calm and in control, can be the way to go when passion might suggest weakness. Miliband got it wrong. He wasn’t being authentic, he was trying to be authentic.

Miliband should have learnt from the former Labour leader. When Gordon Brown, who is widely considered a poor communicator, was fighting against Scottish Independence in the referendum vote, many said he ‘saved the Union’. Unleashed from the constraints of office you saw what made him a successful politician – a man who genuinely cared, speaking with care. Just the right amount.

  1. Authenticity is focus

Sitting in a room listening to Bill Clinton speak, I truly felt he was addressing me personally. Speaking to me. Looking at me. Genuinely interested in me. Ever spoken to someone at a party and they start looking over your shoulder? He didn’t do that. Ever been to an event where someone has a point to make, and just talks at the audience. Clinton doesn’t do that. The UK PM in the latest TV debates came across as genuinely addressing the person and their concerns when asked questions by the audience. Some people, as the PM said, were never going to be convinced, but the polls showed he ‘won’ the debate. Miliband spent too much time trying to affect the mannerisms of a father figure, asking for the person’s name and thanking them for the question. It worked 8 years ago, now it doesn’t. He needs to sack his media people. They’re from a time machine.

  1. Not too much focus

When Ed Miliband in the first of the TV debates in answering audience questions started staring into the TV cameras the tweets that followed gave instant feedback that the strategy looked contrived and insincere. He was trying to fake sincerity, too much like Labour PM Blair. Indeed, in a TV satire about the UK elections, his chief campaign manager is portrayed as an American; the point being you have to be genuine, not aping the cultural norms of another culture or ticking off a list. You have to be yourself, what got you where you are to begin with. Once you need to change to get further, you’re in trouble.

  1. What do you do when you’re telling the truth but you’re not believed?

As a former barrister, this was an issue I could expect to face in every case. The answer is two-fold: emotion and reason. The best example of this in the TV debates was when the PM was told ‘Conservatives are not trusted with the NHS’. What does he say? He cannot say, ‘please believe me’.

When the Labour leader was asked ‘Labour cannot be trusted with the economy’ his response was simply ‘you can’. That doesn’t work. What worked for the PM was emotion and reason perfectly combined. He told the specific story (and stories work best) of his disabled child and the NHS treatment he received. You can’t fake that. You feel the reason and the emotion. It’s authentic. Either Labour were underprepared or negligent. But I don’t remember the Labour leader’s answer.

Alpesh Patel is CEO of a UK Asset Management Company investing in Global businesses. He is a Board Member of the UK India Business Council and a former Financial Times columnist and Bloomberg TV presenter on global investing – as well as the author of 18 books on investing.



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