Why Politics Matters


Politics, Pressure & Performance

Why Politics Matters

Several significant events and developments across the globe have dominated September’s business and politics news. There is a common theme, but this post will summarise three key events from a leadership impact perspective, drawing on my Six Intelligent Leadership Questions (ILQs). The three political events relate to the upcoming COP28 meeting, the potential shutdown of the US Government and the “so-called” bankruptcy of Birmingham City Council. The six ILQs explore the challenges of these political events and the impact that they will have on leaders at all levels. 

As you read, think about what you see as the key theme

Political disruptions occur at all levels of government, from global to municipalities. Political disruptions transgress other economic, social, technical, legal and environmental contexts. Many disruptions are not in the public interest.

These disruptions occur primarily because of political tensions between politicians and other stakeholders. Often political ideology or selfish motivations act against the wider public interest.

The impact is felt far and wide and will present significant challenges to leaders throughout the political and business landscapes. Global, National and Local Community's standards of living and security can be adversely affected.

Aligning the External Contextual Challenges with the Practice of Adaptive Leadership

In this article, I turn the spotlight towards the broader contexts of leadership, drawing on some brief examples from the current political and business challenges dominating media attention this month. Known classically as a ‘P.E.S.T.L.E’ framework, I align this to the importance of adaptive leadership. I use the examples to illustrate why it is so important for leaders to follow the first principle of adaptive leadership. This concerns ‘getting on the balcony’ to scan this environment as part of identifying the adaptive challenge and what the likely disruptive factors are likely to be. This will put leaders (at all levels) in a stronger position to determine what actions are needed to preserve their core purpose based on aligning the vision with shared values.

Adaptability and Flexibilty as similar concepts



Have a look at my brief six-minute e-nugget, which illustrates the principles of Ron Heifetz’s approach to aligning the external context to practice by moving between the balcony (scanning the horizon) and protecting the voices from below. My key message for leaders at all levels, particularly front-line leaders, reflects one of Einstein’s’ classic quotations:

“Be the Voice and not the Echo”.

Exploring Contemporary Challenges through My Six ILQs

What is happening?

As I mentioned in my Friday Focus, climate change remains on the agenda, particularly as we approach COP28 in the UAE later this month. Actions speak louder than words.

A US government shutdown is possible. A government shutdown is the partial or complete cessation of non-essential federal government operations due to a lack of funding. During a shutdown, federal agencies and departments are forced to furlough non-essential employees and suspend non-essential services.

On September 13th, media coverage reported Birmingham as having ‘gone bankrupt’ with City Leaders accused of lying. However, the UK parliament quickly pointed out that local authorities cannot go bankrupt. The Council, quite simply, Parliament argued, issued a Section 114 notice, indicating that the council’s forecast income is insufficient to meet its forecast expenditure for the next year.

Why are these events happening?

COP represents a critical global effort to combat climate change, with leaders and delegates worldwide discussing and negotiating climate targets and policies.

Government shutdowns usually happen because of political gridlock and disagreements over budget priorities or policy issues. They occur when Congress and the President cannot agree on a spending bill or continuing resolution to fund the government for a specific period.

Since 2010, Birmingham City Council, like all other local authorities in England, has experienced a significant decrease in the grants they receive from the Government. According to a report by the National Audit Office in 2018, local authorities’ spending power had reduced by 29% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2017/18.

When are these events likely to occur?

COP28 will be held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023, hosted by UAE.

The occurrence of a government shutdown is highly unpredictable and can happen at any point in the fiscal year if Congress and the President fail to agree upon the funding. These shutdowns are usually triggered when the deadlines for funding approaches, which usually happens at the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Please stay tuned for further updates on this matter.

Municipal bankruptcies under Chapter 9 of the federal code in the US can occur but are relatively rare. Regarding timing, the process can be costly, time-consuming and can cause long-term damage to a locality’s reputation. In Birmingham, we cannot yet anticipate when this situation will be resolved, resulting in uncertainty.

How will these happenings be dealt with?

The upcoming COP28 is crucial for several reasons. It marks the end of the first global stocktake (GST), the primary tool for evaluating progress under the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the world is falling behind in meeting the agreement’s objectives. The hope is that during COP28, governments will develop a concrete plan to accelerate climate action.

The process that leads to a government shutdown involves multiple steps, starting with approving a budget or a resolution to continue funding the government. However, this requires agreement from both Congress and the President. Non-essential personnel are furloughed if they fail to reach an agreement, and non-essential services are suspended. While essential services, such as national security and public safety, continue to operate, many others are affected by the shutdown.

In Birmingham, England, when a council issues a section 114 notice, it means they cannot make new spending commitments. The council is required to convene within 21 days to deliberate on the next course of action. English councils have limited options for generating additional revenue. However, other councils in similar situations have passed an amended budget reducing service spending. In such scenarios, government intervention may also occur.

Where will the impact be felt, and Who will be affected?

In all three cases, the location of impact and who is affected is wide-ranging.

For COP, failure to turn the debate into action will continue to have a global impact on failing to deal with climate change. The impact on the planet could be catastrophic if lip service is paid to the critical elements of environmental sustainability and governance.

Government shutdowns in the United States and the failure of Birmingham City Council in England to manage its budget can be both disruptive and far-reaching in their consequences. They highlight the challenges of governing in a politically polarized environment and underscore the importance of reaching bipartisan budget agreements to avoid such disruptions. Shutdowns significantly impact various aspects of the federal government, including Federal workers, Federal agencies, small businesses, research and development projects, and tourism, to name just a few examples. Similar impacts could be felt in Birmingham as the UK Government can legislate to reduce the range of councils’ statutory duties. Instead of increasing councils’ income, this would reduce the services that councils are required by law to provide.

To summarise the impact of these examples:

Political disruptions can occur at any level of government, from global to local municipalities. Such disruptions can cross into various economic, social, technical, legal and environmental contexts. Unfortunately, most of these disruptions do not serve the public interest.

The primary reason for these disruptions is often political tensions between politicians and other stakeholders. Political ideologies or selfish motives can cause politicians to act against the broader public interest. These disruptions can have a wide-ranging impact on various aspects of society and pose significant challenges to leaders in both political and business settings. They can adversely affect the standard of living and security of communities at the global, national, and local levels.

Leading through 360 Intelligent Networks, Knowledge and Skills

Leading through 360 Intelligent Networks, Knowledge and Skills


I want to share with you the LINKS360 framework, which I offer as one form of operationalising adaptive and selfless leadership when facing disruptive challenges. Earlier, I illustrated moving between the balcony and the voices from below. The first principle requires leaders to scan the horizon. What is coming over that horizon?

The PESTLE framework is a really valuable tool to use. Undertaking this analysis represents the first stage of my LINKS360 approach, as it provides the intelligence to start making some evidence-based assumptions about your adaptive leadership challenge.

The three examples I have used earlier all represent what most people call ‘wicked problems’. These examples may indeed be wicked in their nature, but the term refers more to wickedness in how to resolve the challenge. Heifetz refers to adaptive challenges (as opposed to technical problems), which equates with ‘wicked’ (challenges) and ‘tame’ (problems), respectively. In later posts, I will address these distinctions and summarise them in a future newsletter.

Let us acknowledge that our examples refer to wicked (adaptive) leadership challenges. Characteristics include asserting that a ‘tried-and-tested’ solution is unlikely to be available, so we must design solutions. A further characteristic is that resolution is likely beyond an individual organisation’s gift. We, therefore, need to lead through intelligent networks. We can generate evidence-based knowledge through intelligence and practice and build our skills and capacity through these networks.

While the challenges presented by political disruptions are significant, a variety of options are available for resolution. However, it is essential to adopt integrated, selfless, and collective leadership to address these challenges, which is often not the case. The need for authentic adaptive leadership principles is clear to navigate through these challenges and emerge victorious.

Click on the Image to Launch the E-Nugget

You have an option to view a further e-nugget that I have produced which explains the PESTLE framework in some detail and how it can be aligned with an equally classic ‘SWOT’ framework. The SWOT enables us to analyse the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The aim is to turn weaknesses into strengths and threats into opportunities.

The activity takes just under 20 minutes. I use some detailed examples from a healthcare example. This activity is available for the next month to access without registration.

The Selfless Leader