Frequently criticised, but always acknowledged for his work rate and his influence, Alastair Campbell ran New Labour communications for a decade. He now advises other countries and companies on political and commercial strategy – as well as writing books and speaking for a host of JLA clients. We asked Alastair for his take on leadership…
What’s the main challenge facing today’s leaders?
Without doubt the biggest challenge is the pace of change. Our generation has seen greater change than any previous generation. Leaders and decision-makers have to make sense of it and adapt to it – each according to their own values. This becomes more, not less important as change accelerates.
How would you define good leadership?
The ability to set clear objectives and work towards them with a robust thought-through strategy, all the time dealing with whatever tactical considerations are required. The first is easy. The second is hard. The third can only be effective if the first two are clear.
How do you stay ahead of the competition in testing times?
The key is to challenge and disrupt your own assumptions. Test your strategy. Question it. Update it if you need to. Avoid the comfort zone. Think about yourself as your opponents might do – and remember that trust is not just about the past.
What have you learned about crisis management?
Don’t accept you’re in a crisis simply because everyone says you are. In my ten years with Tony Blair, we had six genuine crises but hundreds of situations that were described as such. Once you find yourself in a real crisis set clear objectives, devise strategy from the centre and pursue it with real aggression. And remember at all times that however bad it is, it will end.
Is the media too powerful?
I don’t believe the media is as powerful as commonly assumed. Politicians and decision-makers in any other walk of life have the power to make major decisions that affect everyone. Too many politicians and decision-makers across the board are far too consumed by the media – and far too cowed by it.