Yesterday’s inaugural speech by Ed Milliband as the new Labour leader was I felt a very good speech. He spoke at length of his past, his values, his pride for the achievements of his party, and the vision he has for the future. It was a tough task, and whilst it lacked the rhetoric of past labour leaders, it was probably more authentically him. But that said, I think his desire to demonstrate that he is his ‘own man’ and he has a mandate for change may have caused a few oversights in his delivery. For no matter how great and dignified his values, no matter how much personal energy he has for the fight, he CANNOT win this alone. He needs to galvanise people around him – and sadly I fear yesterday’s speech may have done the opposite.
His speech may have won over the ‘new generation’ but the comments about past policies (especially the Iraq war) has alienated himself from the wise experienced members of the party (and as I think we will soon hear, has driven out of the party one of its most talented politicians). Whilst I am sure he never meant it to be perceived this way, Ed’s comments were seen as a Judas type betrayal of the cabinet. Sure, he may well be right to publically cut the ties and move the ‘brand’ on. But as is the golden rule of all relationships, there are ways and ways of doing it.
The critical learning is people’s ego’s/reputations are very fragile and should be dealt with oh so carefully – because this is an attack at our highest level – our identity (cf Arthur Miller’s The Crucible ‘Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! …. How may I live without my name? …. leave me my name!)
One of the key skills in management is the ability to empathise with other people – to see it, hear it, and feel it from their perspective. My advice would have been to have re-framed it. We all make the best decisions we can with the information available at the time – upon hindsight, things often look different. If he had acknowledged this, he would have allowed people to be better able to accept a change. Right now, I fear he has got the backs up of the ex-cabinet and once a person is ‘hurt’ at this deep level, they remember it well.
So moving on, I think he needs to apologise to the cabinet (don’t try to explain as explanation nullifies the apology- just apologise). And in future he needs to remember that people want to be around someone who makes them feel great – so since I believe he really does care about people, he may need to more carefully think through the consequences of his words.