Friday, April 18, 2008

Honest Guvnor - We are not stupid!

I have just started a series of 9 leadership training sessions for 37 employees who work in the ‘care industry.’ These are front line folks aspiring to be leaders and it has rekindled my passion for studying leadership.

I did my MA Management (Healthcare) at the University of Plymouth for 3 years from 1996-98 and my dissertation is called ‘Leadership in Practice’ which was the final 20,000 word piece of my qualification.

For those who enjoy reading I’m happy to share my dissertation. Just send me an email at

In revisiting my dissertation I came across discussions I had at the time with ‘followers’ of leaders and how most of all wanted they want their leader to be authentic.

This brings me to recent TV appearances of our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

I have been very fortunate to meet Mr Brown a few times in the last year or so in both small group settings and large gatherings. I liked what I saw. On each occasion one thing that comes across is his concern for people and his interest in them. I admit he does not come across as a particularly extrovert or charismatic person but that didn’t matter to me because he seemed authentic.

The image folks have so obviously been trying to ‘change’ Gordon’s image because I have noticed a few things:

*Gordon is ‘smiling’ much more - and the smile just does not look genuine – actually Gordon, let's be brutal - it looks less genuine than Paul Daniels wig. So contrived!

*Last week there was a TV news item showing Gordon talking ‘live’ to an American TV audience on some charity show in the States about a large donation the UK is making. Gordon looked like he was advertising toothpaste such was his wide permanent smile - it was so ‘cheesy’ it was embarrassing quite frankly as a British citizen. So contrived!

*Yesterday when he met the 3 US Presidential candidates he had exactly the same time with each of the 3 and the walk he did along that corridor was identical even down to the hand gestures and the eye contact with each of the 3. So contrived!

This is not leadership – this is ACTING – and Gordon, sorry to say, you are not a good actor. Please leave that to the folks from Equity. Sometimes it is better to be told the truth by people who like us – even if the truth hurts.

Dare I suggest Gordon is trying hard – and failing miserably – to become as charismatic as Tony Blair? We just don’t ‘become’ charismatic – we either are or we are not – and it doesn’t matter if we are not - as long as we are authentic

It reminds me of the days back in the 1980's when Mrs Thatcher was 'worked on' by the image people to try and make her come across as a ‘caring’ person ….. That was just as impossible and silly as it is to make Gordon Brown appear 'warm' and 'cuddly.'


The most annoying thing about politicians as far as I’m concerned is that too many of them lose their authenticity and therefore credibility when they allow the image folks to take over. I’m sorry to say it appears Gordon Brown is now more concerned about his image than his authenticity.

Sorry Gordon – this does not fit with you I’m afraid and I am sad about that ‘cos actually, I like you!


Maybe I have misread the signs and Gordon really has had an epiphany!!

I fear not …..


rocky said...

Oh how right brian Ward has been with his take on Authenticity. There is nothing like getting the genuine product or in this case the genuine man. I think you are right. people will like you for who you are and what you stand for as long as you are authentic. There is little worse than someone in the public eye trying to be something thay are not. it kind of reminds me of the middle aged man trying to be young. it does not work.

Marilyn said...

Hmm... authenticity and a politcian, do those two words go together? Being real is something audiences can spot in an instant. On a subconscious level, many can be fooled by acting, but not all.

It's my theory that because so many politicians aren't good speakers they fall prey to what their handlers tell them looks good and plays well. Hillary Clinton is a case in point. She spends lots of energy trying to convince voters that she's nice.

Trevor, your audiences get to see and hear the real you. Mr. Brown would do well to practice this...maybe he needs a better speech coach!

John O'Leary said...

Trevor, a view from across the Pond: having watched George Bush win two presidential campaigns by being more "authentic" than his Democratic opponents - at least in the sense of appearing "real" - I'm less concerned about the affectations of politicians. Re Bush, you get what you see. Unfortunately.

dave wheeler said...

Trevor, as usual you are right on point. Style over substance is an affliction with our political leaders. It appears that "looking Presidential" is a far more important attribute than being able to put a coherent sentence together. Everything is scripted and spun and I have often wondered how one can be off message.....when they really don't have a message to begin with. Our election cycle, much like the news cycle is endless. I can honestly say the last authentic thing I watched on T.V. was your interview on Fox where you showed up sans suit and tie. I thought nothing of it until you mentioned that you had caught some flak about it...I was more interested in what you had to say. Ever thought of entering the political arena...Prime Minister Gay? Has a nice ring to it don't you think?

Trevor Gay said...

Great comments and sorry all for slight delay in my response!

Rocky – middle aged man trying to stay young is a great analogy – I lost my hair gracefully despite the vanity; I've never felt inclined to own a sports car; and I thank God I've never wanted the gold medallion round my neck, visible through an open necked shirt :-)

Marilyn – maybe you could get a job with Mr Brown. I am really sorry to see him so obviously submit to the image makers. His authenticity was always shown by his occasional but genuine and warm smile rather than the permanent artificial cheesy grin! – I’m surprised how such an intelligent man as Gordon Brown allows himself to be made to look such a fool. I wonder if this is another case of the Emperor's new clothes?

John – you are spot on about Mr Bush. Sorry to say the final straw for me with Gordon Brown was to hear him say in front of a worldwide audience of presumably millions in a press conference in the US last week ‘The world owes George Bush a great debt’ I suspect the families of the 1 million plus civilian victims in Iraq won't go along with that. Bush is an embarrassment as the leader of the western world and I don’t feel I owe him anything.

Dave – thanks for your kind comments about the Fox TV interview –I really value those words my friend. You will be pleased to hear I am typing this dressed in my usual office attire – tracksuit bottom, open necked shirt and sandals. I would like to assure all bosses and all business folks that wearing a suit with collar and tie has no correlation whatsoever with outcome, effectiveness or job satisfaction. And regards me in politics Dave – thanks for the suggestion but I am not a good enough liar :-)

John O'Leary said...

Trevor, I see your casual attire on TV as effective branding.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi John - Hope you are well - The Eagles tour is going well by all accounts!

I guess the casual attire is ‘branding’ in some ways but I genuinely wanted to be seen as authentic 'me.' Anyone who has known Trevor Gay for the last 35 years at work will testify I am not the greatest fashion icon the world has ever known. Me wearing a tie is as rare as Margaret Thatcher saying some thing funny :-)

Richard Lipscombe said...

Being yourself and being Prime Minister is a hard act... I worked for a Prime Minister many years ago.. He told me he had to choose between being 'liked' and being 'respected' - he choose the latter.. He was never comfortable within himself being the 'respected' Prime Minister... Since he retired he has been much more himself and he is much more the man I worked for but not the man the public saw on TV or kissing babies on the street... As Prime Minister he had a reputation for being hard, almost ruthless, in his manner and outlook.. No matter what social programs he championed he was the villain... Now he is a 'softy' who is championing human rights, an end to poverty, etc around the world... Go figure! Ironically, the Prime Minister who replaced him chose to be 'liked' not 'respected' - he was a real lad and so he got away with a lot....

Looking at Brown from the outside - he seems a genuine man who has old 'Labour' values and inclinations... He was always at odds with Blair's new 'Labour' of presentation, celebrity, and spin before policy substance.. Brown is more about policy settings - redistribution to the poor, social equality, and humility in government.... This is not a popular look and feel for government in 2008... Politics is much more about show business these days than hard core values... Brown is a politician who came too late to his role to be able to simply be himself - I have concluded... More is the pity for him and for his constituents....

Trevor Gay said...

I tend to agree with you Richard about Gordon Brown ‘coming too late to be himself.’

I met him a few times in the last year and he seems a genuine caring man to me. I like him.

What really gets up my nose is why an intelligent man like him allows the image men to manipulate him.

We the public are not stupid enough to accept pathetic attempts to make Gordon appear ‘soft and fluffy.’

He would get much more respect from me if he just stuck to his natural style which is to be very competent and not to try and appear to resemble a movie/TV star.

John O'Leary said...

Trevor, your wanting to be seen as authentic you is exactly what your brand is promoting. Your unpretentious dress reflects unpretentious you. A perfect case of brand outside reflecting brand inside.

Trevor Gay said...

Cheers John - my tie rack is very bare :-)