Results of the Brexit vote on June 23rd shook the world. Right after the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union (E.U.), many citizens who had voted pro-Brexit expressed that they didn’t think it would actually happen and that they wished they could change their votes. Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation was one of the immediate impacts of the Brexit vote. Theresa May became the new Prime Minister in mid-July, and even though she had been on the Remain side (supporting the U.K.’s staying in the E.U.) she says that she will respect the vote to leave.
In this rocky time for the U.K., which leadership traits will be most important for new Prime Minister May to display? Although it could be argued that several characteristics will be key, the following are four competencies that rise to the top of the list.
1) Conflict Management
Being able to successfully manage conflict is a crucial component of good leadership. All organizations have their internal differences, but political systems are notorious for their conflicts. In May’s case, she has walked into a role where her ability to manage conflicts will be one of the keys to whether or not she is viewed as a successful leader.
2) Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence involves being aware of, and in control of, one’s own emotions, as well being cognizant of others’ emotions and how these play out in interactions. Politics are personal for many, and people in the U.K. have strong feelings about whether or not leaving the E.U. is the right decision. It will be important for May to acknowledge these feelings, both in terms of public opinion as well as those she works with. In addition to recognizing and dealing with others’ emotions, she will also have to lead without her own emotions coming out in any ways that could be perceived as negative or unleashed.
3) Managing Change
Leaders must very often manage change, even if the change is unpopular. In May’s case, there are significant changes that need to be made under her leadership, and the main one (leaving the E.U.) is certainly not popular with everyone. As she, and those she works closely with, prepare their strategy and timeline for leaving the E.U., there are sure to be many road blocks. May’s ability to navigate these challenges and lead the U.K. through this process will depend on her ability to manage change.
Being able to successfully negotiate is a leadership skill that is often learned more than it is innate. In order to be a good negotiator, a leader must be able to identify areas of mutual agreement, which isn’t always easy. This will certainly be one of May’s challenges. Beyond finding these agreed-upon issues, facilitating compromises or win-win situations will also be difficult, but necessary.
It will be interesting to see how the next few months and years play out in terms of the Brexit decision made in late June. May’s ability to lead the U.K. through this difficult time will surely be closely scrutinized, and her political legacy will depend on her success in doing so.