I have often commented that government has a lot to learn from entrepreneurs, and that a more entrepreneurial approach to government is essential in today’s world.
But the behaviour of politicians of all sides in the Brexit negotiations, or lack of them, has provided a number of lessons for entrepreneurs. Unfortunately these lessons are very much how not to do things as an entrepreneur.
The first lesson to learn is that leadership is not about doing everything oneself. The conduct on the British Prime Minister is an object lesson in how not to lead. Good leaders are people that recognise the skills of those around them, empower them and trust them to deliver.
Entrepreneurs need to do the same if they are to command loyalty and support for a shared vision. They must also recognise that a ‘shared’ vision is one that people around them have contributed to and not one imposed from above like a schoolmaster or mistress. If you take the approach of imposing your own vision on others, do not be surprised if people start to leave you.
A key skill of the entrepreneur is the ability to listen and certainly the Brexit negotiations seems to be a dialogue of the deaf. Listening means to understand the other side, but also to listen to those around you. Remember that the reason you appointed a sales manager is that they know more about selling than you do.
For any business, the art of negotiation is a key skill. This means that one starts a dialogue where neither side is likely to get all that they want, but where both sides will feel the euphoria of some wins. Negotiation is not the Brexit approach of ‘this is what I want or else’!
There are other lessons, such as not getting the administration staff to develop the sales negotiation strategy, but to rely more on the sales management, and not believing that negotiation involves simply reading what someone else has prepared for you. Negotiation is about building relationships with key decision makers that lead to win-win situations.
But aside from the key people at the top, there are other lessons that can be learned from Brexit. Had there been a clear vision, that was built by all and committed to by all then this whole debate would probably have been in the implementation stage by now.
However, in the case of Brexit, that lack of a shared vision has resulted in a raft of infighting as people do not feel empowered and hence see the situation as a chance to push their own agendas.
Entrepreneurs should not disregard this as a public sector problem that is not related to private businesses. Increasingly, we recognise that senior people in public life operate on a system of self-preservation and advancement.
But the same attitude can soon emerge within businesses if entrepreneurs neglect the people around them. Entrepreneurs will soon find that the gossiping behind their back and the formation of new alliances as a way of combating the vision or approach that they don’t feel part of.
Brexit has become a bit like the comments and suggestions boxes that are put up around some businesses but are always ignored and not implemented. If businesses only pretend to demonstrate democracy and inclusiveness and do nothing about it then the business will never achieve its potential and may well eventually sink.
Brexit started out as one of the great democratic exercises, but has turned into a catalogue of mismanagement, a lack of the necessary skills in the right places, authoritarian approaches rather than debate, a lack of trust, a lack of understanding of what negotiation means, and people on all sides paying lip service to the vote in favour of trying to further their own ends or to save their political necks.
Unfortunately, over my lifetime I have seen all of these mistakes appear in some of the business that I have worked with. Luckily each such business has never managed the full hand of errors that United Kingdom Ltd have managed to accrue.
However, these businesses learnt a skill in order to correct the situation that seems at present to be an anathema to the political classes. That skill is the one of truly listening. As entrepreneurs this is a critical skill for you too.
Remember, you were born with two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion. What a pity that those involved in Brexit didn’t know this!