September 16, 2015

The Jeremy Corbyn leadership challenge: how to unite a divided team

Let’s consider Jeremy Corbyn as a newly appointed leader of an organisation. OK, a political party is not a typical organisation and the way he was appointed is unlike the recruitment process of most organisations. However, he finds himself as a new leader of a political party that is very divided both in terms of what it stands for and who should lead it.

You could describe his new environment as toxic. No sooner has he started the job and colleagues are resigning their posts. There is talk of a coup. That’s on day one. In the background there are lots of other mixed reactions as colleagues get to grips with what most considered to be a surprise appointment. Many don’t support his beliefs and what he stands for.

So, no triumphant day one at the helm. Instead, Corbyn finds himself leading a divided party. So, how should he go about uniting it?

Already, we can see some of his tactics. In accepting his new role he was very generous to those whom he defeated. He used inclusive and friendly language because he wants to heal divisions from the outset.

One of his first jobs was to create a new team – his shadow cabinet – and here he left the door open to anyone who was in two minds whether to serve under him. He mixed this openness and inclusivity with a sense of his vision for the party – there are a record number of women in his shadow cabinet. This is a leader who is showing that diversity is an important issue.

His appointments, such as John McDonnell as shadow chancellor, also send out a clear message as to the direction for his economic policy.

It’s early days for Corbyn and he clearly has a lot to do to bring his party together. What other tactics might help him? Here are our top tips . . .

Have a vision

Have a clearly articulated vision for where the organisation (or in this case, party) is headed. This will show where the new leadership differs from previous leadership teams.

Have an end goal based on your vision. For Corbyn, that is winning the 2020 general election. He knows he has just under five years to unite his party and win over a majority of the British electorate.

Create a plan

But how will have do this? He will need a clear plan. Without it the Labour Party will find it hard to innovate and change. A solid plan will act as the foundation for the changes Corbyn wants to make. However, politics is volatile and Corbyn is a leader who wants to shake things up. That means the plan needs to be adaptable.

Communicate clearly

Making his new vision a reality will require supreme communication skills. Corbyn has spent the first few days of office using open and welcoming language to his party and colleagues. He will have to work hard to sell his vision to his team, party and electorate. How he does this will be critical to his success.

Create the team

Corbyn has quickly assembled his shadow cabinet. He will now have to ensure they buy in to his vision and plan because they will be his advocates. He will need his team to help articulate his vision and how it will be achieved. He knows that he needs his cabinet and party to be united if he is to succeed at achieving his goal.

Aside from the tactics required to unite his cabinet and party, Corbyn must also role model what type of leader he intends to be. Already he is causing a stir by dressing relatively casually and not singing the national anthem.

It looks as though Corbyn is going to be an authentic leader, leading by his values. Authentic leaders tend to be genuine, honest and courageous. That means they also have to be resilient.

Being under the media spotlight means we will all see how Corbyn’s leadership develops. By following his fortunes we will learn a lot his leadership and management skills and how effective they are.