His heroes are Winston Churchill and the Mayor from Jaws. He has been described as colourful, flamboyant, and unpredictable. His imaginatively offensive comments about many of the world’s political leaders will no doubt be recalled for years to come. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, or should we say the Rt. Hon Boris Johnson our foreign secretary, is something of a conundrum. Lacking in tact but likeable, seemingly bumbling yet an author, editor, columnist, mayor, a would-be PM. We look at the soft skills and leadership practices of Boris Johnson.
Born in New York in 1964, Johnson shares a background rather similar to the previous PM.
Like Cameron, Johnson attended both Eton and Oxford and was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club. It is difficult to reconcile Johnson’s illustrious CV with the perception that many in not only Great Britain, but the rest of the world, hold of him- the buffoonish, haphazard politician riding a zip wire.
Johnson’s willingness to act the fool, some would say, is part of his appeal and his unique soft skills style that is communicated not only in behaviours, but verbally too.
In a pre Brexit speech in May 2016, Johnson said: “We can see the sunlit meadows beyond” and later in the same speech: “Do we feel loyalty to that flag? Do our hearts pitter-patter as we watch it flitter over public buildings?”
This vibrant way of speaking makes Boris interesting and memorable, and whilst this particular style might not translate from the House of Commons to a meeting room at your office, finding a way to engage and creating a memorable style is paramount.
And so, Johnson has lulled us into a comforting slumber with his friendly persona and evocative prose.
This makes it even more startling when he strikes with a breach of diplomacy that breaks every etiquette rule going…
- Of Hillary Clinton: “She’s got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”
- Of Trump: “The only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the very real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”
Johnson has demonstrated very little by way of diplomacy over the years, but this is an essential skill in business, as in politics.
Of course, when Johnson made these diplomatic breaches in 2007 and 2015 respectively, he may not have expected to subsequently become the foreign secretary.
You should always exercise diplomacy when discussing colleagues, clients and associates, as who knows where your career will take you.
Cultural sensitivity is another sticking point for Johnson.
In 2006, he alienated the country of Papua New Guinea with slurs of cannibalism and chief killing, “Pickanninnies” was the name bestowed upon natives of the Congo, and the least said about his ode to President Erdogan the better.
Upon hearing of Johnson’s accession to the position of Foreign Secretary, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “The burden of his current position will undoubtedly, certainly, lead him to use a bit different rhetoric, of a more diplomatic nature."
Cultural awareness and understanding can be the difference between developing strong working relationships with our overseas colleagues, and offending them completely.
But it would appear that Johnson does have a polite, gentlemanly side.
In May 2016 during the Brexit referendum, he said: “I am pleased that this campaign has so far been relatively free of personal abuse – and long may it so remain” and “In the next six weeks we must politely but relentlessly put the following questions to the Prime Minister.”
That Johnson is likeable, willing to apologise when the situation demands and willing to laugh at himself makes it easier to forgive him, a little like how you would forgive a kitten that erroneously scratches you.
You have the innate sense that intrinsically he is good, harmless, not to be feared.
This shows just how valuable and important soft skills actually are.
But just imagine what Johnson could do if he took Peskov’s advice and opted for the diplomatic route at every juncture, resulting in a winning combination of diplomacy, cultural sensitivity and soft skills: essential for any professional working in an international capacity.