It is an irony of political leadership that you often start at your most popular but least capable; and end at your most capable but least popular. Because all leaders learn on the job.
I did and therefore now with my Institute try to shorten the ascent up the learning curve for today's leaders. I came into government in 1997 full of enthusiasm and optimism with a significant mandate from the people and large majority. But I swiftly found that the skill set that brought me to power was largely redundant when it came to governing. One was about persuasion; the other was about getting things done.
Over time, I realised that the core challenge was implementation; turning the great vision into the practical reality. And I found that even the sophisticated UK system was excellent at managing the status quo but poor at changing it.
So, in my second term, with the experience of my first, I created entirely new structures which treated the business of government like any other business. I created the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit (PMDU), the first of its kind. It was critical in driving the significant reforms my government achieved in education, health, crime reduction and elsewhere. It also enabled us to embed and incentivise an evidence-based culture across government.
Here, then, are some key insights for leaders and their top teams to consider when coming into office:
Try to do everything and you will do nothing.
The President's aspirations for their country will set the agenda for the whole administration, so they must pick ones which are politically relevant and "citizen-centric"--and stick with them through to full implementation. By selecting just a few, specific priority goals, leaders signal to the rest of government, investors, other external stakeholders and the general public what they care about most.
Get the personnel right
Obvious but true: it's about the quality of the people.
Leaders need a top class top team: a Chief of Staff who can bring organisational effectiveness; and in each unit capable, motivated people. The Chief of Staff helps to structure their Office, selects and supervises staff, mediates access to the President, and manages information/action flows between the President, Cabinet, other central government agencies and the rest of the world. The Chief of Staff needs exceptional management skills and excellent political instinct--but they must not be someone playing politics. The team as a whole should...