Brexit, leadership and the limits of rationality

Brexit, leadership and the limits of rationality

the role of the Coach...

the role of the Coach

What are we to draw from the Brexit vote and its aftermath? Far too much to shoe-horn into a short article, but we can nonetheless point to a few provisional conclusions: about the limitations of rationality – and rationalist conceptions of leadership – and the power and resilience of fantasy, emotion, culture and the unconscious in shaping our decisions and actions.

The logical Remain narrative was that if the ‘facts’ were presented to the public – set against the inevitably speculative accounts of a radical new future offered by the Brexiteers – Remain would prevail. Exponents of what Carlyle called the ‘dismal science’ – economics – were wheeled out to terrify us with their predictions…..but these latter foundered on Brexit fantasies of independence, sovereignty, a golden yesteryear, and pure escapism: a fleeing from the less palatable aspects of globalisation and multiculturalism. The Brexiteers had their own rationality, of course, highlighting the contradictions, missteps, inefficiencies and cultural incompatibilities of a self-styled supranational technocracy. (A technocracy founded itself however on fantasies of a Europe forever reconciled, a happy family in which squabbling siblings and demented uncles and aunts were somehow pacified and neutralised by the marital couple of France and Germany, who would themselves never be allowed to divorce again).

Since the referendum leaders have offered themselves up as material for unlimited projections, enacting a psychodrama tricked out as Shakespearean by those who wanted to give it a patina of sophistication, or as a Feydeau farce by those less impressed. Politicians on both sides of the argument were suspected of being disingenuous, and the nation collapsed into a kind of hysterical relief when former Chancellor Ken Clarke revealed what he actually thought….Meanwhile the public took the opportunity to vent their fears and frustrations on these parental figures, even if that meant disclaiming all responsibility themselves, a form of infantilisation.

We may now be seeing a withdrawal of some of the projections, a gradual refusal to represent the situation as a facile dichotomy of good and bad, and an acceptance that neither side had a monopoly on truth and virtue. But there is not yet, perhaps, an admission that leadership – particularly of a nation or large enterprise – is an essentially impossible journey for one man or woman to take, complex in a way that challenges the cognitive abilities and emotional resilience of even the most capable.

That is why since time immemorial leaders have sought counsel from consiglieri, éminences grises such as Louis XIV’s Cardinal Richelieu, and shape-shifting trickster figures such as the Jester, in order to test and re-work ideas, change optics and to derive emotional support. The modern version of this figure is the coach, who – at least if operating within the Tavistock and similar traditions – has the advantage of being able to call upon the revelatory insights of the likes of Freud, Bion and Lacan to identify the subterranean influences on our thoughts and behaviour; and upon those post-modern theorists like Foucault who elucidate the capillary effect of language on power relations, what can and cannot be thought and said and on what is repressed in a culture.

Very much within this frame, the Tavistock Institute’s course in Coaching for Leadership and Professional Development has for over ten years developed coaches in four continents with the confidence, flair and insight to work with leaders to: deepen their self-knowledge and perceptions of others, understand group dynamics and the levers of culture, and shape outcomes that draw on deeper forces and are thus radical and sustainable over time. Coaches are encouraged to find their own style and are given a broad repertoire of perspectives, models and techniques with which to help their clients engage with and understand the challenges that face them.

James Mackay
Course Director and Founder

Applications are now being invited for the next course beginning in January 2017. For a brochure with full details including outline, fees, venue and module dates or if you have any questions, please contact Rachel Kelly:

e: r.kelly@tavinstitute.org

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