A Faer Point: Lessons On Leading

Published: 28 September 2023


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In the first of a new monthly column, Martin Tucker talks about the lessons he's learnt from one of his favourite podcasts.

Like many readers of The MJ, I’m an avid listener of the Rest is Politics podcast, and particularly its ‘Leading’ edition. It provides a constantly fascinating (and often revelatory) insight into the practice and craft of leadership.

At Faerfield, we see leadership – principally in a democratic context – as our specialism, and so these podcasts (as well as being thoroughly enjoyable) provide a useful touchstone to help calibrate our understanding of what good leadership looks like.

Two episodes in the last few months really stood out for me. The first featured Jonathan Powell, probably best known as Tony Blair’s chief of staff. At the heart of many of the most important negotiations of this century, Powell played a crucial role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Following his time in government, he set up a mediation charity which undertakes reconciliation and dialogue in complex conflicts across the world. The episode identifies staying calm, and never taking things personally, as his superpower.

Interestingly, it also cites his ‘provinciality’ as a reason for his ability to operate objectively. Though it’s perhaps a slightly unusual word to describe a privately educated Oxford graduate, what it’s intended to convey is a refreshing lack of London-centric ambition and jockeying for position. This is also a key feature of the second interviewee who stuck in my mind: Baroness Cathy Ashton, former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Leader of the House of Lords, and even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Daughter of a miner from Wigan, her path to high office was unusual and unexpected – perhaps as much of a surprise to her as to others. She talked with real humility about the simple duty to do as well as you can in the job in which you find yourself – “[they] might be impossible, but we all do them”. Her insight is that it’s genuine collaboration that makes the difference – “it was never just me”.

Stay calm, don’t take things personally, do your best, and work with others. Not a bad set of maxims for leadership.

Originally published in the Municipal Journal on 28 September 2023.


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