A Lesson in Leadership and Change

Leadership styles collide

Explaining such a landslide is never a simple analysis, but one thing that was often mentioned in the British press was the significant difference in leadership styles. While Mr. Blair was an expert communicator, Mr. Brown was criticised for his lack of the same skills.  

In Management Today, Simon Western, Director of Coaching at Lancaster University Management School, provides an analysis based of four different leadership styles that have dominated the past century: the controller, the therapist, the messiah and the eco leader (3).

“People talk about Brown being a ‘controller’, says Western. “This was an early modernist idea concerned with efficiency and rationality”. And being efficient and rational was of course extremely important in Mr. Brown’s position as chancellor.

"Gordon Brown has had to combat many challenges within his first year as Prime Minister to gain the trust of the UK people"

Meanwhile, Mr. Blair, whilst in office as Prime Minister, embodied the ‘messiah’ category, a style of visionary and transformational leadership that became prominent in the 80’s.

According to Western’s lay-out of these categories, it doesn’t seem a surprise that a ‘control’ leader would have difficulties following a ‘messiah’ leader. Interestingly, however, Western points to how Mr. Brown could actually move in the direction of becoming an ‘eco leader’.

“People are now taking the eco leader style very seriously”, Western says. “Being a leader today is not just about charismatic vision. It’s about taking all stakeholders with you on the big issues. You have to think globally and build a network of leadership”.

And whilst Gordon Brown has been criticised for his apparent micro-management, he is at the same time known and respected for being a big-picture thinker on issues such as debt relief and global warming.

Can the 'new' Gordon Brown make a comeback?

According to one of Gordon Brown’s aides quoted in Financial Times (1), the public is yet to see the ‘real Gordon Brown’, who will start “taking more risks, staking out positions earlier and sticking to them”. This idea seems strikingly close to Western’s idea of the eco leader.

The question is now whether Gordon Brown can bring this leadership style to the forefront, in due time to turn the opinion polls around.


(1) George Parker, "The year of leading damagingly: Brown now aims to set his stamp on UK", Financial Times, 26 June 2008

(2) Jodie Ginsberg, “Gordon Brown safe for now”, Reuters UK, 2 May 2008

(3) “Leadership: Gordon Brown knows best?”, Management Today, 1 August 2007



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