This week looks like being a tricky one for the U.K.’s government. To be fair, most of the weeks since the coronavirus first struck back in the early spring have been challenging. But at least in those initial days, ministers were given a certain amount of the benefit of the doubt over the handling of a phenomenon that even the scientists could not even agree on how best to tame. Lately, patience has worn thin and — more important for and his colleagues and advisers — support has followed suit. Conservative members of parliament, who with their counterparts in other parties return to work after the summer recess tomorrow, have grown restive over having to defend policies that look shambolic only to see them abandoned soon afterwards. Simultaneously, most of the country’s school children are supposed to be returning to the classroom in some guise or another. Although, with concern about increasing numbers of coronavirus cases and many parents and teachers unconvinced of the wisdom of the move, that cannot be a certainty.

And all this is before the Treasury starts drawing up plans to raise the funds needed to repair the hole in the government’s finances created by the virus and the response to it. Reports that these could include extra taxes on the wealthy and on business have already begun to cause alarm.

So where do Johnson and his team go from here? Given that even countries that are felt to have handled the pandemic better are now facing second waves, it is hard to say. The obvious approach would be to forget about much of the rest of government business and focus on preventing a potentially disastrous second wave of the virus. One problem with that is that the number of mis-steps so far suggest a lack of any clear and consistent strategy, let alone the ability to a execute with any competence. Even more serious is the second problem: Brexit. This is a government that was effectively elected with one aim in mind. In the prime minister’s words, to “get Brexit done.” The deadline for that is only weeks away — and with neither the European Union negotiators nor the faction within the Conservative party and in the country showing any signs of accepting a delay, the government would have enough to handle if there were nothing else going on. (Just a reminder: in addition to a pandemic, there are tensions in the former Soviet Union, a confrontation with China over Hong Kong, an ongoing crisis involving migrants risking their lives to cross the sea between mainland Europe and Britain and continuing problems in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. And that is without all the social issues at home.)

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The fact that ministers seem so caught out and unprepared is something of an indictment of the political class. For many years, the acronym VUCA has been a constant on the lips of management gurus and others. It is a term borrowed from the military referring to Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Awareness of it was supposed to warn leaders in business and elsewhere that the future would be very unpredictable. Looking at how all kinds of businesses converted themselves into remote working digital enterprises almost overnight, some people were obviously listening.

Unfortunately, it looks increasingly as if those in government and its surroundings were not. There has been a tendency to portray the virus as an event out of the blue when we know there have been scares before with SARS and other outbreaks leading officials to carry out at least some exercises designed to test resilience. But, even if there had not been these warning signs (not to mention the explicit warnings from experts in the field), the point is that history should tell those concerned that governments — even those with healthy majorities — can easily be blown off course by events. Ministers are rarely in control as much as they think they are.

All of which leads to a thought-provoking book by leadership adviser Niamh O’Keeffe. Future Shaper, subtitled with uncanny foresight How Leaders Can Take Charge in an Uncertain World, argues that many so-called unpredictable events could actually have been foreseen and planned for accordingly. The key, says, O’Keeffe, is to not be paralysed by fear. Instead, leaders should get better at understanding the possibilities and better at predicting future outcomes and shaping the future in the way they want to see.

Along the way, O’Keeffe, who has previously written books on how would-be leaders can reach their potential and make an impact once there, sets out the fundamentals of leadership in an environment that — even before the pandemic — was uncertain. But more pertinent for Johnson and his team is the list of leadership traits that she believes are essential for a Future Shaper. They are:

Fearless — bold and brave decision-making unhampered by self-doubts;

Unconventional — creative and not conforming to what is generally done or believed;

Tenacious — a dogged determination to achieve key outcomes and not easily discouraged;

Unifying — skilled in bringing diverse groups together to pursue common goals;

Resilient — a capacity to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations;

Empathetic — ability to appreciate the other person’s context and understand their feelings.

To be fair, Johnson’s team might feel that they score well in at least some of these areas. Their ability to master some of the other areas could well decide their futures.

Read original article here.