Asserting Presence through Absence
When can an incumbent win a debate by choosing to sit it out? In a Forbes “Leadership” blog titled “Cameron’s Absence From UK Election Debate Could Prove A Clever Calculation,” Richard Hytner details three lessons for leaders from the recent live television Challengers’ Debate on the BBC.
“Leaders do not always have to be in the room, on stage or even in the country to shape the agenda,” writes the author of Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the London Business School. “Staying out of the way may give you more control.” The leader’s absence from an event might also deemphasize the occasion’s importance, in this case rending the debate in the eyes of viewers “more of a lower league fixture than a Premiere League affair.”
Hytner’s second lesson—which applies to the board room as well as the political stage—“relates to the relationship between [leaders] and their supporting cast.” During the debate Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and the Leader of the Scottish National Party cheekily suggested that in the event of a hung Parliament, she might make Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband a better leader “if [he is] prepared to be better.” Hytner asks rhetorically: “Imagine Sheryl Sandberg offering Mark Zuckerberg the chance to make him a better leader if only he would demonstrate his readiness to be one?”
Hytner’s third lesson—don’t insult your customers. Accusing the BBC of left-wing bias before going on to insult the intelligence of the studio audience, UK Independence Party and far-right anti-immigration candidate Nigel Farage earned a loud round of boos. In all, a good night for Cameron to stay home!
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