Corbyn vs May: Leadership styles in the spotlight

The snap 2017 general election is significant not only because the two main party leaders, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives’ Theresa May, offer wildly opposing views on many issues, but also because they present hugely contrasting styles of leadership.

May presents a more old-style, top-down leadership, typical of many political and military leaders, while Corbyn presents a style less often seen, whether in politics or organisations, that of the “servant leader”. What can we can learn about leadership that is useful to organisations?

The best leadership style?

It is not for us to judge the better style. The formal leadership style served a stable world well for centuries and not surprising that May, a self-professed “strong and stable” Oxbridge leader, should feel at ease with this style, speaking for example of ways in which strategy needs to change after the latest terrorist attack on the UK, this time at London Bridge.

Corbyn, by contrast, the product of a less elite institution, is at ease dancing on the stage of a rally in Sunderland and referring, after events at Manchester, to the need to put our arms around those affected.

May has a tendency to refer to the governed as “ordinary” people and as categories – she referred to having talked with steelworkers, fishermen and oil and gas people for example, all in the third person – while Corbyn will often use the first person plural pronoun “our people, our country”.

Leadership style in the balance

So, the 2017 general election is not just about policies but also leadership style. The lessons for people management are clear. An inclusive style of leadership will deliver a more motivated and productive workforce than command and control.

The two main candidates for the leadership election have shown us transactional and inclusive leadership in action. Organisations can pick up the baton and have a debate on leadership styles and, like the country, decide which way they would like to go.

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