Theresa May seems to be in trouble. Although she is holding on to power, the least one can say is that she has lost the support she had when she stepped into the footsteps of David Cameron. Why is that?
There’s a simple explanation for that. She has lost trustworthiness.
There are 3 elements of being trustworthy: competence, loyalty and integrity.
- Competence is about being capable of delivering. If there is confidence that someone is capable of delivering results, there is a basis for trustworthiness. Novices will be less trustworthy, whilst people with a lot of experience will be more trustworthy.
- Loyalty is about acting on behalf of other people. If I know someone will act on behalf of me, in my best interest, I will have reasons to trust that person.
- Integrity is about being consistent and in line with espoused values.
May has failed on all three of them.
How she has lost Trustworthiness
First, she has shown herself as a clumsy politician, with low social intelligence. On Twitter she has been named the worst prime minister in history. She has been incompetent in her campaign, refusing debates and uttering hollow phrases. The list is long.
Second, she has shown herself to be disloyal. She made the mistake to touch people’s lives by proposing out of the blue to finance social care by confiscating people’s assets down to 100,000 Pounds. This is electoral suicide and it shows how estranged she and her party is. The Labour party called this approach a tax on dementia. This is a killer name and this will haunt May and the Tories for ever. Not only has she demonstrated that she does not know how to campaign, also, she has shown she is not acting on behalf of people.
Third, she has changed her campaign on several occasions, casting shadow on her integrity. Her negotiations with the DUP are again a demonstration of incompetence (was there a deal or not?), but also she shows that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. This is not very integer. If results are more important than values, you lose integrity.
She’s not alone
I am not saying that Theresa May is alone in this. Many leaders would sacrifice values for results. Many leaders take U-turns when needed. And sometimes they get away with it. And not all leaders are as competent as they should be, both in politics and in business. But they get away with it. And many so called leaders are disloyal and put personal gains above general interest. And they get away with it. But with most untrustworthy leaders, it’s not that clear. May seems to be even incompetent at covering up. So she might not be a great leader, she is also not good at being not great.
So the mayhem that May may be facing today, is a result of the implosion of her trustworthiness. Combining incompetence, lack of loyalty and a lack of integrity is killing for a leader who depends totally on whether they are trustworthy. And she has only herself to blame.
But I guess there is more. The fact that she has lost her trustworthiness in the eye of the public and of many politicians, is als due to a lack of courage to show character. If the desire to hold power is so big, it will erode character. Power hungry people want to become that person who can get into power. They are willing to abandon themselves. The temptation is so big that they lose the basic traits that make them human: empathy, reciprocity, kindness and fairness. That is character erosion.
I do not know Theresa May myself. What I describe here is the process behind character erosion that leads to leadership derailment. It can happen to every leader. So leaders owe it to themselves to take care of themselves and to protect their character against erosion. Even when this means to forego on power, position, popularity or personal progress.
Only then, their leadership will be sustainable.
Leaders owe it to themselves to protect their character against erosion.
Like Icarus, people who let their character erode and become focussed on peripheral gains, will fall.