Tony Blair’s Guide to Career Development

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s autobiography, A Journey: My Political Life, should be required reading for everyone. It is a treasure trove of great advice on life.

You have to speak the language in order to change the terms of the debate conducted in that language, otherwise you may be a fine example of a person who is right, but irrelevant.

I am remembering countless staff meetings when someone wants to say something just to hear the sound of their own voice.  They really have nothing to add to the conversation.  Still, they believe that if they don’t speak out their silence will be interpreted as disinterest.  Wrong!  Silence is golden.  It is better to be quiet rather than to sound like a fool.  After all, you can be wrong and irrelevant just as easy as being right and irrelevant.

Of course, if you are right, and want to contribute, you have to know your audience.  Some people talk down to colleagues.  They sound “preachy.”  Never a good idea.  Others just don’t know how to verbalize their thoughts.  They are better writers than speakers.  Go with your strengths.  Sending a short e-mail to a colleague supporting them after a meeting can sometimes be more effective than adding your “two cents” to an already too long meeting!

The issue is not the fornication but the complication.

That may be the quote from the book.  For the record, he was talking about a sex scandal.  No matter, it’s just a clever way of saying, “It’s not the crime that kills you, it’s the cover-up.”  If Nixon had come clean immediately following Watergate, he probably would not have had to resign.  It was the cover-up that cost him his presidency.

We all make mistakes.  Make certain that you boss hears about your mistakes from you.  And when you “confess,” make certain you have a plan to repair the damage.

The absence of credibility actually increases the likelihood of confrontation.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep and don’t give advice on subjects on which you know nothing.  If you don’t have the experience, ask questions.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  “Why wouldn’t it be a good idea to do…?” sounds a lot better than “I think we should try…” when everyone knows that you have never done it or that you failed in the past to do exactly what you are now suggesting.  Credibility is king when trying to establish your credentials.  Which brings me to the next quote:

Knowing when to shut up is one of the most vital rules in life, never mind politics.

‘Nuf said!

Tony Blair is a liberal or, if you prefer, a progressive.  This is my favorite quote (after “fornication!”) because I happen to be a conservative:

…the first instinct of conservatives it to resist it [a great public lather about something]—and they are often right to do so.  They don’t come to a viewpoint because everyone tells them they should.  This attitude is the reason that while people may say they don’t like conservative politicians, they still vote for them.  People tend to go with the crowd; but in an odd sort of way, they respect a leader who is prepared to defy the crowd.  Indeed, if he or she is not prepared to do so, the public suspect he or she is not a proper leader.  It’s weird the way it works, but there it is.  Progressive politicians often don’t get this.  They prefer to be with the tide of thinking, and get confused when the public say in an opinion poll they believe in X, only to vote Y at the ballot box.

“Defy the crowd,” does not mean to reject for the sake of rejecting.  It has to be based on something.  “I don’t understand, explain it to me.”  “I’m not convinced.  Prove it!”  Leaders lead; they don’t follow polls.  Followers follow.  The only correct definition of a leader is Drucker’s  “a person with followers.”  If you want a position of leadership based on respect and not an organizational chart, help people to reach the right conclusion by forcing them to convince you that they are correct.  If they are, in fact, wrong, you’ll be helping them to see the error of their ways.