Leading is about creating a shared sense of home

By Martin Vogel

Why do I write so much about politics? Because there’s an inescapable link between our political situation and the way organisations are led. It’s a moot point whether organisations align with the prevailing political discourse or whether politics is shaped by the interests of organisations. At the moment, it’s politics that’s making the running. There’s a broad consensus across the political spectrum that, whatever path Britain takes in relation to Brexit, it needs to become more inclusive. There’s not much agreement (nor even much in the way of ideas) about how this is to be achieved. But I fear many organisations don’t yet grasp the demands it will place on them to overcome the alienation and social fracturing that blight large parts of the country.

In my earlier blog post about David Brooks’ advocacy of moderation, I noted that Brooks – though ostensibly writing about politics – was referring to a stance that has much wider applications. He makes reference to neighbourhood and community as being among the dependencies that need to put politics in its place. I would extend this to the organisations that claim our affiliations, either as their employees or their customers. Organisations, to some degree, constitute our experience of community. Their diminishing sense of stewardship in part explains the rise in populism. The backlash, is felt, at first in politics but it will shape the terms and possibilities of leading in areas of life well beyond the political.

Although I’m no enthusiast of Brexit, a bigger concern for me than the eventual form it will take is the damage the referendum has wrought on how we mediate our differences. The polarisation of narratives – the demonising of those who are critical of the Brexit project and the righteous anger it elicits in the other side – suggests we are becoming an intolerant polity. At best, this means that complex issues can’t be debated honestly and will end up being mismanaged. At worst, it leads to authoritarianism and suppression of dissenters.

Two thinkers on either side of the Brexit divide share a recognition that there can be no sense of belonging, of a nation in which people feel at ease, if this polarisation isn’t checked. The philosopher, Roger Scruton, sees the rule of law applied over a sovereign territory as being the foundation on which we can mediate our differences in a civil way. He echoes David Brooks in expressing a hope that Brexit will create a renewed sense of home:

“You can be a loyal subject of the British Crown and also English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh when it comes to other aspects of belonging. You can be a British Nigerian or a British Pakistani, and the future of our country depends upon the process of integration that will persuade new arrivals that this is not only possible but also necessary if they are to make a home here. You can be a British Muslim, Jew, Christian or atheist, since nationality, defined by land and sovereignty, does not extinguish religious attachment or the residue of older and more rooted ties. Nationality is not opposed to transnational co-operation, or to quasi-patriotic feelings towards countries that are not one’s one. Everything here is a matter of degree, tempered by the ongoing negotiation between neighbours that is the stuff of a free democracy.”

The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the other hand wants to reverse Brexit. What I found more interesting than this fact, in his radio interview at the weekend, was his recognition (at 11’32”) that its realisation depends on creating a shared sense of home among those who have economic and cultural concerns about our future:

“I think it’s really important right now at this moment, not just in the politics of Britain but in the politics of Western countries, that we don’t allow our politics just to go off to the extremes on right and left – where you end up with two groups of people who don’t really really talk with each other, who don’t really listen to each other, who don’t particularly like each other. I’m more interested in how do you build bridges across, so that you can persuade some of those people who genuinely feel let down and left behind that there are solutions to their problems that will actually work.”

For or against Brexit, we have to share our home in these islands. While economic wellbeing is important, it’s only part of the answer. We need also to create a sense of voice and dignity. We need a politics that hears people’s concerns, not shouts them down, and that attends more to our shared interests than that which divides. But the greater part of dignity comes through non-political channels: in families, neighbourhoods and communities, yes; but also in organisations that treat the people they encounter with respect.

Image courtesy Paul Bence.