What to do if you can’t win no matter what

Brexit – December 2018

Theresa May is in a very difficult position politically now and is under attack from many angles. She has a seemingly impossible task to carry out and has opposition on many different sides. She has the Europeans trying to squeeze her for as much as possible. Understandable, as that is how it was always going to be. She has the Labour Party trying to derail her party. They are trying to get into power more than they are trying to get a deal sorted for the country with Brexit. She has the other opposition parties calling for another referendum or a people’s vote. She has her own backbenchers baying for her to resign or step aside, though not all of them want to rock the boat too much right now as they fear a general election. They do want her job though.

Theresa May

Theresa May

I am trying to look at this political situation in a non-political way, so please bear with me as I try and skirt around the ‘what is right and best’ or ‘what this country needs is…’ or too much commentary on the topic of Brexit itself just how it is being managed, or the merits of any of the parties either. This isn’t that kind of article! This looks at what could be done to work together to resolve things rather than who could do it.


From a personal perspective, Theresa May must be going through a personal nightmare. She sees opposition, anger, hostility, and shouty people pretty much wherever she looks. It is a real test of leadership when you are faced with this. Whilst you can front it out for so long, there are times when you would be shaky and uncertain if you aren’t receiving support seemingly anywhere! I can’t recall a time when the country has come under this kind of scenario before. Even in a time of war, the country generally pulls together. In the time of do we choose x or y, the larger party will go their route until they get voted out at the ballot box and then the other party get their chance to do what they think. We haven’t really had a scenario before where the referendum vote of 2016 has informed the government what they would like, but without defining what that actually looks like.

Two wheels now, not four?

In a totally outrageous comparison, if we voted for a two-wheeled vehicle instead of a four-wheeled vehicle, we could end up trying to get a Harley Davidson when we may end up with a moped instead. The nation voted for a two-wheeled vehicle but didn’t have the opportunity to define what the specification was of that. Those who voted for two wheels may have dreamed of the Harley, all strong and stylish and the envy of others. While delivering a moped, strictly speaking, is still a two-wheeled vehicle, that the nation voted for, it really isn’t what was expected or that they would be happy with. If the Harley isn’t available, then even the two-wheeled voters wouldn’t be happy with it. Those who voted for a four-wheeled vehicle wouldn’t be happy as they wanted a car, or a van, or some such equivalent. Even a Harley wouldn’t be good enough for them. That isn’t a criticism of them, it is just that their preference was to have a four-wheeled vehicle. By not specifying what is acceptable whether you wanted four or two wheels until you get a moped, or a skateboard if it had gone the other way, you can’t measure what is seen as a success so it all will be seen as not being successful.

Project Management

From the angle of the leader in this situation, you are effectively project managing the worst possible project. You have no scope, you have suppliers and customers all shouting what they want and what they expect, but no specified scope. There is a timeline that has been creeping along without recognisable milestones and review points. There seems to be a finger in the air calculations for the cost element of the project. Without even looking at the project subject, this is the worst organised project for anyone to come in to manage. I think it is a project that needs a definition before it goes any further. You don’t carry on regardless and try and make the best of something when you don’t have buy-in from the key stakeholders, or when you don’t have a defined list of objectives and aims of the project.

Can’t win, no matter what

As it stands, Theresa May can’t win, no matter what. Some people will put that down purely down to her. Some people will put that down to those around her. Some will say it is the fault of those who voted for leaving the EU in the first place. As it stands, no one will feel like they have won if this goes through as it is. I don’t think this is the fault of those who voted that way in the referendum. I don’t think this is the fault of those who voted against leaving. I don’t think this is the fault of the EU either. I think this just shows that when major change comes about, you need to define what is what collaboratively and that means as a nation, as a parliament rather than just as a governing party, and together with European partners. As it stands, no one will be pleased.

How the project could have been delivered

As a leader, you need to lead. You need to make tough decisions. You need to think outside of the box. You can’t just say Brexit means Brexit without defining anything. You look to see what that actually means. You speak to people. You find out what their real concerns are. You find out what success looks like. You think of what could resolve problems. You get other better thinkers to resolve greater problems that you can’t resolve yourself. You don’t just continue and try and get the best you can. I don’t think that any party that was in government could do much better without having this kind of approach. You need time to explain what is involved so that you get people on board. Communications are really important when trying to either explain what something is, or when you are trying to get input from others.

Collaboration is vital to any project being successful, no matter what it is you are delivering. Collaboration amongst your own party. Collaboration among other parliamentarians. Collaboration with the nation as a whole. Find out what it is that people want. Find out what the common ground is and work at those. It took the government ages to come up with an announcement that EU residents would be allowed to remain in the country post-Brexit. I can’t imagine any modern-day government, and certainly, no British government kicking anyone out, so to me, that was the simplest and quickest of announcements instead of seeing it as a battle rather than a collaborative exercise to get the best for both sides.

What could be done now

If you are a leader where you feel you can’t win no matter what, you need to take a long look at yourself and those around you and see whether the strategy is working. If it isn’t you either remove yourself from the project, or you change to get where you need to be for the success of the project. By having milestones on the project timeline, you can see how you are doing, and whether you need to revisit areas that aren’t working as they should.

My call to Mrs May, if she were to read this, is that this opposition to the way things are going currently isn’t completely a personal thing, but it is more a strategy thing and a style and substance thing. Yes, some people want her gone. Yes, some people want her job. Yes, some people want her to fail so that they can kick her party out. But they should all want the opportunity for a better Britain, no matter what that looks like, in or out, and they should welcome strategy change and collaboration if they truly have the interest of the country at heart. That is something she should be able to deliver.

She can’t change who she is, and quite honestly why should she, but it should be in the make-up of any leader to be clear in what the aims are, to take control of the project and to define what is happening around them. By purely quoting predictable sound-bytes she is not helping herself. By listening to others, hearing their concerns, and reacting to them in a positive light, you can lead in a stronger position. Leadership is about listening and making well thought out decisions.

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