David Cameron is resigning as an MP. What can entrepreneurs and business professionals learn from the former prime minister?
Number one: know when to get out
Timing is everything. Gordon Brown once quipped that the difference between a good and bad chancellor is down to the timing of when they step down. But Mr Brown was chancellor for ten years and presided over the longest ever run of economic growth. Alas, his mistake was to become Prime Minister, just as the world was set to face the biggest financial crisis in 80 years. Maybe Gordon should have ridden his luck, got out while the going was good. Entrepreneurs always need an exit plan, maybe one that is thought through a lot more carefully than the one Mr Cameron has used.
These days we are told to account for things that unravel after we are gone – Alan Greenspan, former chair at the Fed, stepped down long before the 2008 crisis, but his reputation was still dealt a severe blow. And in Business, Sir Philip Green got rid of BHS before things descended into an even bigger crisis, but he didn’t manage to avoid a furious backlash when things went wrong. Mr Cameron’s legacy may turn out to be Brexit, and that takes us to point number two.
Number two: Don’t bet your career on the unknown
Why did he do it? Why did David Cameron take the UK into an EU referendum? It is said that Mr Cameron thought it was unlikely the Tories would win the election outright, and that his coalition partners would have vetoed a referendum. Maybe former prime minister felt that he was in danger of losing too many votes to UKIP, we will never know if UKIP would have won sufficient votes to stop an outright Tory majority if he had not promised to hold a referendum. It is clear, however, that David Cameron was the architect of his own downfall – whether you think he also betrayed or saved the country depends entirely on where you sit on the Remain Brexit divide.
Number three: Listen to your advisors
David Cameron once likened the job of Prime Minister to be akin to “being in an asteroid shower.” He said: “You have got things flying at you every day. . . Should you be going to Sri Lanka? What are you going to do about famine in the Philippines? Why has this minister done that, why has that politician…? All these things are coming at you.’ He said the solution was in ‘having a trusted team and a clear plan.’
Then again, presumably, it was his advisers who recommended the referendum.
Number four: Don’t micro manage
Gordon Brown was (is) a details man, who liked to micro manage his way to ruling the country. Mr Cameron isn’t. It is said that his style is ‘themes, not detail’. Mr Cameron himself puts emphasis on making judgements, on obeying his instincts. But critics have said that his lack of attention to detail can count against him. One insider reportedly said that Mr Cameron ‘can sometimes act as if he believes his natural intellect is a substitute for hard graft’.
Number five: Be pragmatic and willing to comprise
Reportedly, David Cameron and Nick Clegg got on well, he was able to form a coalition government because of his willingness to compromise, but could you imagine Margaret Thatcher working with the Lib Dems or SDP/Liberal Alliance as it then was? But Mr Cameron’s ability to compromise also opened him to charges of not having a clear plan, or not taking control enough. But, in this digital age, collaboration is key, and Mr Cameron had a collaborative approach to leadership, often giving his ministers a lot of autonomy.
Number six: Be Loyal
He was loyal to his supporters and advisors, but maybe to a fault; the legacy of his honours list illustrates this.
And finally: Number seven
If doctors tell you you’ve got pneumonia, listen to them and take it easy – whoops sorry, wrong politician.