Brexit Roulette

A vote delay doesn’t change much: one leader is still taking their entire career on one decision.



So much for a clarifying vote on Brexit.

In yet another jolt to the historic divorce, UK Prime Minister Theresa postponed the first Parliamentary vote this week on a proposed detailing the UK’s departure from the European Union. May wants more time to convince skeptical members of Parliament to sign on to her deal.

Even with the postponement, to outsiders it looks like May is betting everything on one decision. But experts say that rarely of this magnitude, such high stakes moves are part and parcel of being a world-class leader, whether in government or the private sector. “The bigger the decision, the larger risks,” says Peter Cave-Gibbs, Korn Ferry’s regional market leader for global technology markets, EMEA.

Such decisions happen, he says, because leaders can move an organization only so far using small tweaks. “Long-term business strategy is when bold bets need to get made,” he says. But administering changes usually means you can't be quite sure where things will end: the outcome is uncertain.

It takes, obviously, some courage, but leaders can’t be reckless, says Mary Macleod, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and head of the firm’s Government & Public Enterprise practice in London. Macleod, a one-time MP herself, says that May’s big bet is still a calculated one. “She’s done homework, research, and analysis,” she says. That’s something that happens in business all the time. It is also true that any major undertaking will run into opposition that requires a change in tactics to get the job done.

Interestingly, bold moves don’t always surround the leader’s original will—they may be brought on by other stakeholders. In her case, May voted to remain in the EU, but when she became Prime Minister she pledged to carry out the will of the people. “In Theresa May’s case, integrity was central to what she has offered as a leader all along,” says Kirsta Anderson, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global solution leader for the firm’s Culture Transformation practice in London