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THE INC. LIFE

Regardless of the Brexit Outcome, British Prime Minister Theresa May Is a Determined Negotiator. Here’s What You Can Learn From Her

Time will tell if she’s a brilliant tactician or merely going down swinging.

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BY Dave McKeown - 01 Feb 2019

brexit outcome

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Brexit, the conscious uncoupling of the United Kingdom and the European Union, is messier than the Bezos divorce and the governmental debate over wall funding combined.

Yet this battle over the future of that once Imperial nation is, potentially, gearing up to be a powerful example of negotiating prowess.

Theresa May, the embattled Prime Minister who stepped up to lead the country through the messy divorce proceedings when those who initiated it were nowhere to be seen, was always going to have an impossible job. She was signing up for a leadership legacy defined by one thing; her ability (or inability) to guide the UK through a period of polarization and despair. From day one her leadership has been consumed by this one task. With the official date of separation enshrined as March 29th, 2019, she embarked on a tumultuous 18-month blitz of negotiations in an attempt to agree on the most orderly exit possible.

And she's done it whilst keeping at bay numerous factions not just from the opposition party but from within her own ranks. This week she got agreement from Parliament on a final plan to take to the EU negotiators and is potentially on the verge of delivering Brexit. Although it remains to be seen if she can re-open her talks with the EU.

Regardless of whether you agree with the end result or not, there are some powerful lessons we can draw from May's obstinate, often robotic determination to 'enact the will of the people'.

Don't unpick the decision.

On June 23rd, 2016, the British people decided to leave by the razor-thin margin of 51.89% percentto 48.11 percent. Not a landslide by any means but a result is a result.

Almost immediately, as the Brexit supporting leavers nursed their hangovers the day after the result, those in favor of remaining set about a push to hold a second vote claiming that the public was misinformed by self-serving politicians, misled by fear-mongerers or even worse, meddled with by hostile foreign governments.

In May's head, however, the decision was the decision. No amount of new information or data could convince her to even entertain the notion of calling for a second vote. She was elected as leader of the Government to deliver Brexit and 'by hook or by crook' she would deliver Brexit.

Sometimes, as a leader, when difficult decisions are made, you have to stick to your guns and push them through to a conclusion rather than being swayed by water cooler conversations and sidebar chats to re-open the discussion.

Keep all sides at the table, just long enough.

May has been criticized throughout the process for not involving enough voices in the discussion, for not evolving her position in line with the feedback she's received. Yet when you look at the myriad positions that are represented in the debate, from the leaders of the EU to the opposition parties in government to the warring factions in her own ranks, she's kept everyone just close enough to get the votes she needs without allowing dissenting voices to derail the process (too much).

As a leader, you have to find a balance between consultation and progression. When you seek consensus you run the risk of stalling action. Bull-doze your way through with no consultation, however, and you squander a lot of sweat equity you've built with your team. The best question you can ask to help guide those decisions is; "how many of my own key team will I need to help me push through these changes and of those how many are in agreement with me?"

Contrast your preferred outcome with the worst possible scenario.

May only ever really presented one plan, the agreement she had secured with the EU. She resisted (for as long as possible) calls for extending the negotiating period or holding a second vote and presented the options in front of the MPs in stark terms. It was her agreement which pleased almost no one or it was crashing out without an agreement which would be chaos.

As a leader consensus is a powerful thing. But sometimes you have to end the debate, provide your team with two options, sometimes equally unpopular, and then grin and bear it. You can't always get to a win-win or a third-way solution. Sometimes you have to take the least bad option, work through it and then re-assess.

Theresa May took up an impossible job at an impossible time, received criticism from almost every direction she turned and, throughout it all, has stayed true to one over-riding objective. Although she's still got some convincing to do with the EU negotiators which could end up with her going down in flames, with the vote in Parliament this week, it looks like she 'May' just get there.

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