The Leadership Lessons of 'Plebgate'

A bloke with a bicycle getting into an argument with two police officers is not something that would generally make the front page of even the smallest of newspapers.  Even allowing for the fact that the person involved was Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield and Government Chief Whip, hardly elevates its status above a mention on a quiet news day; which is probably why Mr Mitchell is complaining that the story has been "blown out of all proportion" by the media.

Unfortunately for Mr Mitchell, he now looks very much like a man trying to dig himself out of a hole.  When the story first broke, his first reaction was to deny that he swore at the officers concerned.  He later admitted swearing but insisted that he did not use the word “pleb”.  But having clearly been economical with the truth once, I doubt that there is anyone left in the country that actually believes his version of events is correct and that of the person who reported the incident to The Sun newspaper and the two police officers concerned were wrong.

Regardless of whose version of events you believe, the most damaging aspect of the incident for Mr Mitchell is the implication that he sees himself as being distinct from the majority of people, perhaps part of the ‘ruling classes’ and in some way better than other people.  But as both an MP and Chief Whip, he plays a prominent role in a Government that is there to represent us all – plebs and non-plebs alike.

If he does see himself as a member of an elite minority, he can now relax as he has achieved his mission – he is now a member of a group of people who have been identified as hypocrites – people who say they stand for one thing while secretly believing something else.  Members of this elite circle include ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown who, believing himself to be in the privacy of his ministerial car, called Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman”, and Mitt Romney, who when speaking at a private $50,000-a-seat fund-raising dinner dismissed 47% of Americans as slackers who depend on the state for hand-outs.

Authenticity has always been a key criteria for effective leadership, but until microphones and cameras became all-pervasive technologies, the chances of being caught believing one thing while saying another were remote.  The lesson for leaders everywhere is make sure that you only say what you believe and that you believe what you say.  Charlatans beware - you will get found out!

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