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Opinion Piece: Leadership Lessons from the Rise and Fall of IDS


Since Iain Duncan Smith's departure as leader of the Conservative Party, James Brook, Director of the Leadership Practice at RightCoutts, has identified some of the lessons current and future leaders should consider to ensure their success.

A leader with vision
The Conservatives needed a visionary leader to take them beyond the self-limiting battles of issues such as Europe, public spending, healthcare and education.

A leader with strong convictions, coupled with the ability to focus the party on superordinate goals - moving people beyond factional interests and individual agendas, was essential, and success hinged on working systematically to understand and bridge factional interests and creating a unified position.

But IDS was unable to gain the loyalty and discipline among his parliamentarians, let alone the voting public.

A leader who secures the common ground
Common ground is key in order to forge a strong relationship between leaders and employees. One goal and vision to achieve this is the unifying bond for organisations and political parties alike.

Often criticised in the national press for right wing views, IDS may have forgone the common ground he needed between the general public and his own party to gain a broader appeal.

A leader with charisma
Leaders do not have to be regarded as charismatic to impact their followers. Describing himself as a "quiet but determined man" at the Conservative Party Conference this year, IDS' modest persona may even have won support, especially amongst growing criticism of the level of spin in Labour circles.

However, as a MORI poll indicated in November 2002, IDS has remained a largely unknown party leader. The survey showed that 38% of people had no opinion in whether he was doing a good job or not, the highest figure ever recorded for a Leader of the Opposition at that point in his career.

Leaders who are not able to connect effectively with their followers, and openly share their strengths, beliefs, aspirations and values are unlikely to earn the respect, credibility and loyalty of their followers.

A leader with integrity
IDS' integrity was questioned regarding allegations that he made improper payments to his wife from parliamentary funds.

Integrity remains the critical ingredient for successful leadership, especially during times when there are growing expectations from society at large that leaders, in both government and the private sector, will be honest and trustworthy.

This is reflected by the extensive media coverage questioning the belied and respect entrusted to leaders by their followers, for example, recent criticism over the voracity of Tony Blair and George W Bush's weapons of mass destruction statements.

Once trust is eroded, it is extremely difficult to rebuild.

A leader with communication skills
Finally, IDS received criticism over his apparent failure to communicate his points with passion and conviction or to create a compelling vision for the UK that his own MPs and the public at large could relate to.

In debates with Tony Blair, IDS was often seen to focus on attacking the opposition, rather than persuading the voting public of the benefits of changes in policy and government.

Though leaders do not necessarily have to be highly charismatic to get their points across and build a strong following, they do need to communicate with conviction and emotion, highlighting the benefits to stakeholders of realising the organisations' goals and the contribution individuals can make in fulfilling these changes.


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