Entrepreneurial lessons from one Brexit week

Over the last week the news has been inundated with the Brexit deal/no deal! As someone that works with entrepreneurs I didn’t recognise any of the behaviours as relating to the world of business. As such I felt the need to identify some lessons on what not to do with your entrepreneurial business.

The first thing that became apparent was the way that the negotiations were conducted. No business in its right mind would give a running commentary on the progress of negotiations.

At the same time, it was also apparent that this was not a negotiation, as business would understand it. This was not about negotiating from strength in order to get the best deal. This was about procrastinating and then making a last minute dash to get something on paper.

But there were other lessons for entrepreneurs in the human factors affecting the Brexit negotiations. Most notable of these was the approach to leadership. No business would consider appointing a management team, ignoring them completely whilst taking control of their functions, and then giving the day to day work to their secretary rather than the management team member.

Equally, no business would consider ploughing on when it is clear that the rest of the company has serious misgivings and demonstrate this by resigning. In real businesses human resources are considered the most valuable resource.

I suppose that government ministers are considered disposable assets and hence resignations are of less concern. However, if a business lost one or two members of the management team they would start hearing alarm bells, and shareholders wouldn’t let the number get to over twenty.

In trying to understand why there should be such disparity in the conduct of parliamentary officials compared to business owners, it is interesting to look at research on that political phenomenon of the ‘political legacy’.

In politicians we have a group of people that deliberately put themselves in front of the public, and get elected because of perceived popularity. However, once they leave office they rapidly get forgotten.

This leads to them trying to create what has become to be known as their political legacy. However, this can be because of who they are or because of what they achieved. Research has shown that hard legacies are usually only associated with those at the top, whether good or bad legacies.

For many leaders the opportunity for a major legacy comes along infrequently. In the UK we could think of winning World War II, the NHS, Miners’ Strike, Poll Tax, joining the Common Market and the Iraq War as such examples.

Clearly Brexit is another such opportunity. However, when you examine the good and bad legacies you see that the ones that are remembered for good reasons were the result of policies that would well supported. They were also the result of a team effort, even if the leader is the person remembered.

Where things go wrong is when leaders cease to lead and, instead of acting as a team with differing skills, opt to operate outside of the team they have around them.

Good business leaders recognise that they don’t have all of the answers and build a team of people around them with a shared vision and with the skills to help to deliver that vision. Good business leaders think of success of the business, not about legacies.

I have worked with businesses over a number of years now and none have talked about their legacy! The good ones have always worked to a team plan for continued development and success that ensures job security for all in the business. Those businesses that don’t will soon go to the wall.

Most importantly, when they come to leave the business they are content to leave a business in good health, knowing that the team they leave will still be there to continue the vision.

Sadly, when we look at the state of Brexit today we see a failure to trust any of the team, a perceived lack of negotiation skills, discord amongst the workers and the potential to end up making many of the workers redundant.

No business person would want to have the Elton John song, ‘I’m still standing’ as their legacy, but for some politicians I suppose that this is better than slipping into obscurity.


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