How to Recruit a Prime Minister

How to Recruit a Prime Minister

It’s hard to listen to the news around the selection process of the next Conservative party leader and not draw comparisons to executive search.

When a business is in turmoil and its staff are losing faith, it’s more often than not the one at the helm that faces the chop. As Boris put it, “thems the breaks.”

Let’s face it, it’s a tough role to fill. Whether you were with or against Boris, it is undeniable that his successor will be coming into a difficult situation. It is not a nice, comfortable handover into a role which will be plain sailing. They’ll immediately be confronted with a war in Europe, a cost-of-living crisis, the Northern Ireland protocol conundrum and an erosion in public trust of politicians.

But is that really all that much different from recruiting a new CEO to turnaround a struggling business?

Think about Balfour Beatty back in 2014, share prices had slumped and shareholder faith was weaning. So, in came Leo Quinn to restructure, prioritise sectors they were willing to work in and revaluate their attitude to risk. And now Balfour Beatty is back delivering consistent profits.

So out of those in the race, who is up to the task?

The process of taking a longlist of candidates and whittling them down to a good, solid shortlist is something we are very familiar with, which got me thinking.

If Newsom Consulting were retained on an executive search for the next PM, what would we be measuring our candidates against? What would be the essential skills and requirements for the next Prime Minister given the challenge they will be inheriting?

1. Resilience

It’s a job that is going to face a lot of criticism and push back. Having the strength of character to make the tough decisions and not be deterred by making the unpopular calls are essential characteristics for successful turnaround leaders.

2. Motivations

The core motivations for taking on the role have to be sound and align with the organisation (or country). The ideal is the Level 5 Leader (as defined by Jim Collins in Good to Great) who has humility and takes decisions that are in best interests of their organisation, which will not always be the decision that is best for themselves.

This is a tough criteria to measure. How do you know that candidates are being honest about their motivations for considering a new role? We find personality profiling to be a very useful tool for measuring motivations and drivers in behaviour.

3. Managing Conflict

When times get tough, you often find that groups of people will divide off into groups. A great leader will be able to engage with these different entities and bring them together to reach a common goal. Leaders of a turnaround need to be prepared to be hands on in their leadership style at times, understanding exactly what is happening in every function of the business.

4. Communication

It is crucial that any new leader brought on board can convey a sense of calm, control and confidence to all stakeholders, even if the strategy for recovery is still uncertain.

Individuals must be able to articulate the company’s direction and strategies for reaching the new objectives. Communicating at all levels of the business, motivating those in the board room with them, and those on the front line.

When major change is required people will be nervous and morale will be low, leaders must be a spokesperson for the company motivating teams to change and to get on board with new approaches.

5. Decision Maker

Logical, objective decision makers are what is needed in challenging circumstances. Companies must do whatever is necessary to survive and the person leading that charge will need to sometimes make quick, tough choices to implement strategies that either no one has considered before or been brave enough to execute.

They must be able to quickly determine where resources should be sent, which business units can secure the company’s immediate survival and eliminate those that are draining profits or show poor promise.

This is where competency-based interviews are extremely useful. Asking candidates to describe where they have experience of this kind of decision making and to provide examples will be a great tool for helping to narrow down your candidates.

Now I couldn’t possibly comment on how the Tory leadership candidates compare to our hypothetical job spec, but at the very least they’ve achieved the most diverse longlist in modern British history, which is definitely refreshing.

What traits do you think are most important for leaders coming into a struggling business?

Author: Jim Newsom

Jim Newsom

Managing Director