Leaders v Leadership

After many months of gathering evidence and deliberating on the facts, Lord Leveson has finally presented his report.  Before it was published, politicians from all sides were urging people to await publication before rushing to conclusions.  Sage advice given that the enquiry lasted more than 100 days, received evidence from 135 organisations and 474 people and has concluded in a report that contains more than a million words spread over 1,986 pages and contained in four volumes.

Yet despite the extensive nature of the enquiry and the seniority of the Judge who led it, politicians from all parties and from the party leaders down were pontificating on ‘what to do next’ within hours of the report being published.

Once again, one suspects it is dogma and self-interest rather than reasoned argument that is driving these views and opinions.

In his best-selling book, Steven Covey sets out the habits he observed in people who were significantly more effective than other people.  One of those habits was to; “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  If this is a habit of highly effective people, it is likely that ineffective people will do the precise opposite – i.e. seek to be understood first.  So let’s consider our Prime Minister’s position on Leveson:

Prior to the publication of Lord Leveson’s report, the Prime Minister said that he would support the findings provided they were not “bonkers”.  Yet the same day the report was published, Mr Cameron was warning against a key element of Leveson’s recommendations, namely statutory support of a new regulating body.

With the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party and a raft of celebrities and other victims of press intrusion against him, his latest position is to suggest a ‘third way’; a press watchdog formed by Royal Charter.

I do not highlight these changes of position for party political reasons, as I am sure that similar disparities could be demonstrated in the statements of senior people from all the major parties, but rather to draw attention to the fact that being a ‘leader’ and providing leadership are different things.

In our media-rich 24-hour society we unreasonably expect our politicians to give instant responses to questions and have an opinion on everything from the state of the economy to abortion law.  But, when time permits, leadership requires consideration and circumspection.  In the case of the press, the country has to balance the conflicting requirements of maintaining the principle of freedom of speech while at the same time permanently stopping the sort of moral depravity that led to the Leveson enquiry in the first place.

While rushing out decisions and press-releases may be popular, it may well be that it would be better to allow the dust to settle on the Leveson Report before working towards a consensus over the coming months.  But therein lies the dilemma, a quick decision can be popular in the moment whereas good leadership is only evident visible in hindsight.

About the Author
Alistair Schofield is Managing Director of Extensor Limited.