11th Feb 2011

The First100 Days of the new Irish Government

There has already been talk, from some of the main political leaders, about what they are going to do in their First 100 days in power. This is encouraging, and is a great sound bite, but do they actually know what they are talking about? 

Political historians will be aware that the first person credited with this notion of making an impact in the first 100 days was Franklin D Roosevelt. When elected President of the United States in the 1930’s FDR was trying to drag America out of a great depression and trying to address a banking crisis – certainly a lot of parallels with what the new leader of Ireland is going to have to do once assuming power.

As with any business leaders taking on a new senior role in a company in crisis, our political leaders will have to accelerate their performance and get this country back on a sound footing. Wall Street passes judgment on CEO’s after 100 days in office, as it recognises that this early period really sets the tone for the longer term leadership of the company. Our new Taoiseach will have 100 days to set the tone for the future of this entire country – it is a big task and a big ask.

As a consultant, working every day with leaders in this very situation I have some pertinent advice for the aspiring Taoiseach.

Firstly, our new leader will have to spell out his new vision for this country. In my experience people want to be led and will put up with some short term pain if they feel it is part of a wider vision and plan. Right now, in the throes of an election campaign, what we are hearing is unrealistic bluster aimed at getting into power but in fact bearing no resemblance to the reality that will have to emerge after the votes have been counted. We are unlikely to get a single party government so anything that is currently being promised by the various parties will end up being compromised as a result of having to enter a coalition. So in the absence of being able to articulate a real vision now, the new Taoiseach will have to communicate to us, within days of being elected, what his Vision for the new Ireland will be. Keeping the people in the dark and not communicating with them is what contributed to the downfall of the 30th Dail.

Our new leader will need to acknowledge, not least to himself, that he is making a big leadership step-up to the office of Taoiseach. None of the candidates has held this position before and they will all have to overcome unique personal challenges if they are to make a successful transition. It could be argued for example that Enda Kenny (the most likely next Taoiseach) will face difficulties when it comes to communication effectiveness – a key skill in any leader at any level. Notwithstanding the storm in a teacup over his non-show on the TV3 debate recently, there is certainly a perception afoot that this is not a strength of his. My advice is to nip this in the bud early on, address the nation (much like the US State of the Nation address given by the president), show confidence and articulate the vision.

Conversely, the new leader will also need to play to their strengths in their first 100 days. By only addressing your challenges you are hoping to achieve a standard level of leadership performance but by playing to your strengths you can truly achieve leadership excellence.

The new leader will need to develop new stakeholder relationships. The stakeholder network is huge so the leader needs to be adept at identifying the key stakeholders and be quick at building a new relationship with them. Have as many meetings as possible in this early period but don’t fall into the trap of spending months ‘listening’. Now is the time for action, for achieving things, for moving things forward and for accelerating your performance. In Ireland there has been a political hiatus for months – the last Government has been described as a ‘lame duck’ for months now, the EU/IMF has come in and in reality the country is overdue some real action. Listening is important but action is critical to the new leaders success.

Building a strong team around him will be critical. I would urge the new Taoiseach to set aside political allegiances and ‘cronyism’ and put the right people in the right roles. It is okay to have dissenting voices on the team and in fact it could be argued that without conflict there can’t ever be real progress. The new leader needs to be brave in the personnel decisions he makes. Consensus leadership is not a good style in this situation but collaborative leadership will achieve a lot. Listen to the people you put on your team but make decisions and make them quickly. Good leaders trust their instinct.

Leadership is a complex business – with approx 2,000 books a year written on the subject it could be called an industry in itself. But fundamentally leadership can be broken down into the following areas.

  • Strategy: Develop, communicate and execute on the vision and strategy immediately. Set the country on a course for recovery, tell the people what is needed and use the mandate to get things done.
  • People: Be inspiring to your team and to your people and demonstrate the ability to bring us all on this difficult journey
  • Results: Show the people they have made the right choice by achieving some tangible results quickly and by staying focussed on measurable deliverables

Underpinning these leadership fundamentals will be the values that the new leader stands for. Amongst other values he will need to be Courageous – to make tough decisions, he will need to have Integrity because our educated people can see when someone is in power for their own personal gain, and finally he will need to have Compassion to understand the impact of the decisions he makes on his people.

Ireland is on the edge of the abyss – we need a strong leader to show us the way and to get us there. We will know after 100 days if our new leader is the right one – it is a short period of time but it is long enough in which to get something done and in which to set the tone for the next 5 years.

Garrett O’ Keeffe

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