Calm in the first Brexit cyclone

Brace for collective leadership for the post-Brexit cyclone!

Professor Bernd Vogel

After the recent high action-high octane months last week felt like a breather on Brexit. MPs were asked to use the Easter break to reflect. I have never been in the eye of a storm, but the situation read a bit like the calm and peace weather at the center of a cyclone. Well, then the peace was spoiled by sharp mutual accusations from all sides, as attention moved back from Brussels to home.

The second, post-Brexit cyclone

And that exactly points to the second cyclone. You recall the satellite images where one storm follows another. Either a Brexit or a Remain decision has been made, or anything in between. The same questions will be imminent: What is fallout or outlook of either for society? Will the ripple effects of the original escalation result in more verbal escalations, if not more? How can society and people deal with it?

Interestingly the Chancellor Philip Hammond in the BBC suggested that “although I’m sure it seems incredible right now, in a year’s time, when this is behind us…all this will be forgotten, we will move on, and Britain will have a bright future.” That is one option and this may happen.

However the forgetting, forgiving and moving on might be more difficult. Not everyone will have a more pragmatic stance of thinking this is all a short-term transaction. Many have been truly invested and are emotionally hurt. Then preparing for the second, the fall-out cyclone, is about bringing society at every level back together – in parliament and parties, organisations, in communities as the backbone of towns and cities, or in family relationships that have suffered.

For the post-Brexit cyclone– three avenues to explore now

Detoxing society

In our leadership research we speak about toxic or corrosive energy in organisations. This shows in anger, open infighting, back stabbing, distrust in power, zero-sum games, winning and losing at all cost, putting partisan interest above collective interests, break down of cross-interest collaboration. Sounds familiar?

Some activities to kick off:  

  • As society, acknowledge corrosive energy as an issue – ignoring will not help
  • Cleaning up corrosive energy –key is to take the abrasiveness, the steam and fire out of the conversations, language and communication
  • Learning to (re-)trust – Creating small projects and actions across the divisions to re-learn trusting each other across identity groups, partisan interests and societal processes
  • What is joint agenda? – Reworking strong and shared countrywide values, identity and purpose, yet only when the steam has left the pressure cooker.

Healing and forgiveness

To consider the necessity of healing and forgiving may be a strange thought. However, recall the language that has been and continues to be used. People across society in all spheres of life can role model healing, acknowledge the demand for healing and instil forgiveness. Facilitating a collective process can be crucial to not fall into a trap of an individual saviour. Solving collective issues requires shared involvement and ownership.

“Truth and Reconciliation Commission” … that could be a bit far-fetched, or is it?

Many speak of a national collaboration to make Brexit happen – this has not really happened. To reshape society in and from the second cyclone is a national, cross society effort that involves all societal arenas. People will engage with this anyway. The job is to notice, talk about it, and make the progress of healing visible or show that differences are not too deep.

Or just maybe… Obviously we have not seen in the last five years or so what South Africa has suffered from for decades, and any comparison would belittle the pain of that nation. But could the UK learn from some of the principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), to reunite and heal wounds?

TRC was about promotion of national unity and reconciliation, the mandate included witnessing, recording, sometimes giving amnesty to violations of human rights, reparation and rehabilitation, but also offering to express regret for possible failures or do declare remorse. How would that sound contextualised to the UK?

Try this!

When was the last time you have reached to a person on the other side of argument in a constructive and positive way and with a mind-set of listening?

Identify a person, reach out and start to focus on common ground instead of identifying differences.

Happy engaging – stay tuned

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