When Theresa May first stepped into number 10, I wanted her to do well. I was still fairly politically fluid just a few elections ago, or more accurately, really poorly informed. I was open to getting behind anyone whose manifesto sounded like it would work out well for our family. (I know. I’m not proud of it.) I was painfully unaware of the issues so many people living around me were/ still are facing. I was basically, pig ignorant, blinded by my privilege.
A female Prime Minister felt like a good thing, something to celebrate, and I was ready to give her a chance. Woman to woman. I know that having high expectations of her as a beacon of female leadership is unfair, and plays into societal themes- one bad performance from a woman, and it’s women can’t do this. One from a man, and it’s #notallmen…
But the thing about feminism is, it doesn’t mean you support women NO MATTER WHAT. It doesn’t mean that you stop calling out problematic conduct, choices, internalised misogyny, and the rest. And, as a woman, I feel deeply disappointed. I guess I’m flawed.
SIDE NOTE: The calamity of the past few years has served to highlight to me, to many of us, the incompetence, the injustice, the empty rhetoric that are the building blocks of politics in the Western world right now. Perhaps, always. But I will not disengage. And I beg you not to either. Because the extremists won’t, they will turn up to vote and to be heard and seen every time.
Back to business, literally. What we CAN thank Theresa for is the gold content she’s provided for the big question we are all pondering much of the time- HOW TO BE OUTRAGEOUSLY UNSUCCESSFUL.
Take what she’s done, and turn it on it’s head. Your business will boom. Here come the lessons…
Vulnerability is essential
So many of the opinion pieces out today include snippets like, “She was human after all.” What a relief. If only she’d shown us all sooner. I have a tiny amount of sympathy for her here (don’t judge me). Alpha culture across politics, the corporate world, let’s face it basically everywhere, does not welcome humanity. Keep your home life and your work life separate. Keep your shit together. Talk about people behind their backs, for sure, but don’t be wild enough to tell them to their faces that you feel hurt, undermined, etc. Stiff upper lip. Keep on struggling, just do it quietly. Put on a brave face. Stay quiet about your mistakes and hope that no one notices. Even when they definitely do notice, just keep glossing over them with tired, masculine, meaningless mantras (‘strong and stable’ anyone?). Emotional women are often labelled as hysterical, manipulative, or out of control.
Being vulnerable isn’t about crying on the daily, telling the world every time you’re having a tough day, seeking out a barrage of ‘U ok hun?’ on a mysterious facebook post. It’s about truth. It’s about admitting mistakes. It’s about taking risks that emotionally expose you. (It’s also NOT about making your audience/ customers/ electorate your therapists, by the way.)
Brene Brown is a leading authority on courage, vulnerability and leadership (catch her Netflix show if you’re new to her), and she tells us that being willing to ‘rumble with vulnerability’ is the foundation skillset for courageous leadership.
“The thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that we use to protect ourselves when we aren’t willing and able to rumble with vulnerability move us out of alignment with our values, corrode trust with our colleagues and teams, and prevent us from being our most courageous selves.”
The corrosion of trust is a tough place to come back from. And that’s what happened here.
How can you apply this lesson?
Be willing to be SEEN. Not all day, every day, but allow people moments of access to YOU. Your true self. And every time you do show up, speak from that place. People need the opportunity to get to know, like and trust you. They want to know that you can relate to their experiences, and that you are connected to them. They don’t wanna believe that you have ALL the answers, being a few steps ahead of them is enough. Even Brene Brown regularly shares examples of how she’s found it challenging to live her findings, acknowledging that she’s still learning.
In the last couple of weeks of the launch of Thrive Like A Mother, I’ve engaged with hundreds of wonderful women. They’ve seen and heard me composed, prepared, responsive, overjoyed, inspired, enraged, frustrated, hopeful, sad. Yeah there were hot tears rolling down my cheeks one day, because I LIVE what I say and it actually PAINS me when women have such a low opinion of themselves and their own potential.
I’ve said some stuff that has been deeply irritating and/ or confronting. These are the catalysts for emails and messages telling me of a resulting awakening. They are also the reason people leave the group or unsubscribe. So look, it’s not about getting your vulnerable appearance quota in 3 times a week. It’s about speaking from your heart, even when you know it won’t be unanimously tolerable. Because…
Know your ideal client, and speak solely to them
“A Britain that works for the many, not the few”.
“No one and no community is left behind”.
Oddly left leaning rhetoric, the second actually quoting Jeremy Corbyn verbatim. But those of us she might have been trying to pinch from Labour wouldn’t be convinced by this when it was spoken against a backdrop of cuts to services that ‘the many’ rely on. Education, the NHS, the Police all under increasing pressure. Unemployment rates falling, yes, because inhumane ZERO hours contracts were on the up. We weren’t buying it.
And her actual ideal clients, the elite, would have been pretty put off. NEWSFLASH: they’d like to keep their privilege where they can see it.
How can you apply this lesson?
Work out who YOU are, and what you stand for. Just do that. Just speak to YOUR people. The ones you wanna work with, the ones who have resonance with you, from your heart. It’s better to have a handful of raving fans then an army of people who find you ok. Those evangelical few will grow your community for you. Don’t second guess what’s cool to say, or how people will react- be unapologetically YOU.
Look, if she had come out and said, ‘to be honest, I’m only interested in people like me. I’m not gonna do anything about Grenfell, child poverty, or any of the other issues that affect the oppressed and poor in this country, I’m gonna focus on tax breaks for my mates, and posturing with Europe’. I wouldn’t have been loving her, but I wouldn’t have voted for her ANYWAY. Her ideal peeps would have been lapping that shit up.
You cannot please everyone- please yourself, and the people you are aligned with. Of course, this is only really possible if you…
When you need anyone else to sign off on your decisions, you are on thin ice. You are out of alignment. When those people hold views that are highly problematic, that threaten peace, and women’s bodily autonomy, and the world can see you will resort to ANYTHING to cling to power and status… not ideal. When Theresa found herself shacked up with the DUP, (remember when that magic money tree suddenly sprouted), she was screwed.
How can you apply this lesson?
Choose legacy over status. Choose impact over power. Basically- don’t sell your soul to the devil. If you’re not doing it (whatever your thing is) in a way that’s true to you, you may as well not be doing it at all. Conscious compromise is ok. Sometimes necessary, and productive. But being held to ransom? Not a situation that’s worth being in.
If someone offers you something- an investment in your business, a loan, a ‘favour’, or an opportunity to collaborate, ask them, kindly and directly- what would you like in return? What are the terms of this agreement? And if they nudge you out of alignment- away from your values, away from FEELING VALUED, walk away.
As I write this, I’m reminded of all the times I see small businesses being guilted or manipulated into giving freebies in exchange for ‘free advertising’. TRUTH BOMB: if it costs you your time, energy, emotional labour, product, etc- it’s NOT free. And much of the time, the exposure people are being offered is not to their own ideal clients. And yet, they say yes, because they feel they somehow owe someone something.
Last one, bit lighter for lolz… don’t leave very important things until the very last minute.
The Brexit Referendum was in June 2016. And to sum up, in brief, next to fuck all happened for 2 and a half years. Until suddenly, back to back votes that had the Speaker absolutely loving his time in the limelight, but no real progress. Red lines. Meaningful votes. Brexit means brexit. Lalalalala… Ooops, better ask for more time.
How can you apply this lesson?
We’ve all done it, right? Been so overwhelmed by a mission that we just do nothing. Procrastination calls to us, so does the fridge, the phone, the tidying up, because there’s always tomorrow… Better wait until it’s perfect before I put it out there (although obvs it never made it that far in this scenario, and in fact, it never does).
You can’t learn without action. You can’t grow without it. You can’t progress. So crack on and DO, even when it feels terrifying. Courage isn’t about the absence of fear, it’s about acting in spite of it. People often tell me they don’t have a mindset problem, they’re just disorganised. That’s a mindset problem. Theresa might not have known about the 5 second rule, but I’d recommend you get it on Audible.
And so we are done. May the third female Prime Minister be someone who we can do some of what Theresa has claimed she’s done. Someone to centre security, freedom and opportunity, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to fight the burning injustices that still scar our society. Until then, we’d better get on with it ourselves.