He’s a card, isn’t he? That Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. Speaking at the launch of the CIPD and JCP Steps Ahead Mentoring project earlier this week, Boris talked of the need to teach young people the “sheer cunning” needed to succeed in the workplace. Sheer cunning and stunts may have got the former journalist and MP into one of the top jobs in the country but what possible place does it have in the future workplace, or indeed in the workplace of today? The dictionary definition of cunning is given as follows: Having or showing skill in achieving one’s ends by deceit or evasion. Is that what we really want? Is that what our policymakers espouse? Taking the platform in City Hall and talking about the desirability of deceit and evasion certainly seems to suggest so, at least in the mind of the Mayor.
Deceit and evasion, or cunning, if you prefer Boris’s cuddlier term, are the very behaviours we’ve seen on display over the last few years that have so eroded public trust in individuals in power and in businesses and institutions. The scandal of MPs expenses, the excesses of Wall Street and The City, environmental disasters, phone hacking, NSA and GCHQ snooping, sexed-up dossiers, tax evasion and avoidance, fracking, whaling, diving in professional football, doping in cycling, tap water sold as spring water, the treatment of whistleblowers and so on, ad infinitum. What a depressing litany of venality.
Every act you undertake as a leader, your every behaviour, will be a measure of how much trust you have in your colleagues. Being deceitful and evasive is to treat them with the utmost disrespect. If we are to re-establish trust and respect we simply cannot send a message that sheer cunning is acceptable. We’re doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn it’s lessons. Building and retaining trust should be one of the most important of all lessons if we’re really committed to creating a sustainable and responsible future ecosystem of the world of work.