Earlier this month, a previously innocuous television presenter, Phillip Schofield, ambushed the Prime Minister, David Cameron, live on TV. Without warning, he now famously handed him a list of supposed paedophiles downloaded from the Internet demanding that he look at them and asking what he intended to do about them.
To his credit, Cameron kept calm and didn’t look at the list. He then appealed to anyone with information about paedophiles to inform the police. Schofield’s intention could have been born from a sense of public duty, or simply to raise his own profile, which he has done but not in the way intended. He has since been disciplined and in retrospect could find it a career-limiting move.
In my younger days, I recall similarly ambushing my Director at Cranfield but fuelled by mischief as well as principle. At a presentation by the Director about the new appraisal system, I asked to the amusement of the entire faculty, if we were going to follow advanced industry practice and introduce upwards appraisal.
The Director was Glaswegian and slowly walked over to where I was sitting in the front row, looked down at me, and in measured tones responded with: “Are you feeling lucky?” Not as cool a response as David Cameron’s.
Both these illustrate that when in a leadership position, people will come at you from the ‘blind side’ for a variety of reasons and not necessarily for obvious reasons. What is important for the leader is not to be caught out by being ready to respond.
In Cameron’s case, he reverted to a principle – criminality should be reported to the police and with one minor gaff, retained his credibility. My ex Director, on the other hand, reverted to his natural style and made himself look a bit vulnerable. Clearly principles are more important than style for retaining leadership credibility.
The question this poses is:
What are the fundamental principles you fall back on in times of ambush?
These are obviously a very personal choice, but if they haven’t been rehearsed and previously articulated, the danger is that you revert to style.