I was in San Francisco when the Brexit vote was announced to a surprised world. Up until then all of the US political news focused on Trump v Clinton, but that soon changed as the financial markets started to react and the American people were being affected by what had previously been low-level interest in what was happening in Europe.
I was surprised but not shocked at the vote. As a management consultant with 40 years experience in leadership, I had sensed a shift in people’s attitudes to life after the financial crisis and a growing sense of unfairness and distrust in political leadership across parties. The referendum was perhaps the first time “ordinary people” felt they had an opportunity to make their voice heard.
Over 17 million people voiced a need for change around immigration, EU migration, jobs, the NHS, European bureaucracy and cost, as well as the feeling of losing our Britishness. Of course, a slightly smaller number of people who voted to stay are now angry at how the fallout from the vote has effected the financial markets, trade deals, exchange rates, uncertainty about investments and jobs and fear of a backlash from the rest of Europe.
We now have an almost equally divided Britain looking for leadership, direction and unification at a time when the political fabric of the country is falling apart.
As a businessman, I have experienced many a time when the company has been under catastrophic threat, from competition, exchange rates, poor products, changing markets or lack of necessary skills. I learnt that at these moments, the place to look was to the future. Creating an exciting vision of how you wanted the company to look and engaging the workforce to help deliver it. It was not a time to look back, other than to learn from your mistakes, it was a time to unify and drive forward together.
The Brexit vote has made it clear what people are unhappy about, so now is a perfect opportunity to create a compelling future around how immigration could be managed, the NHS properly funded, bureaucracy cut, jobs and housing revolutionized, trade deals tackled and the economy stabilised, under a “proud to be British” banner that starts to create a pride in our nation that many feel is now lost. This is not an easy list and some things will suffer as a result, but it is a clear set of priorities the public want to improve and a golden manifesto opportunity.
This requires real leadership from our politicians, not trying to prove the other side is wrong, but making a stand for something that “ordinary people” understand and are happy to support. It requires honesty, authenticity and passion. Our people are not stupid, they understand that running a country is a difficult balancing act and the opposition and press will offer counter arguments at every turn.
However, a leader who can stand above the rhetoric, with a clear vision and plans to deliver it, communicated in a language everyone can understand, will lift us out of this fog and we all know that when we get behind something as a nation, we are unstoppable.
Let us hope one emerges!
— Paul Barron was previously CEO of NATS, President of ALSTOM UK and MD of Ruston Gas Turbines (now Siemens). He was awarded a CBE in 2000 an in 2013 received the Association of Colleges Gold Award in recognition of his career achievements. Paul is now a management consultant with Human Alchemy.