In the day in which the Cilcot Inquiry on the war in Iraq has been finally presented in the UK, after its set up in 2009 (!) there are many political responses around the role of Tony Blair the then Prime Minister. Mr Blair himself has held a press conference in which he equally apologised for the errors and defended himself for the decisions. The media is full of analysis of all sorts and far from me wanting to add any in the political field.
But I am looking at his position from a slightly biased and forensic view of leadership itself. And this is why I call it the ‘Blair Fundamental Error’ of leadership, playing with the well-known concept of Fundamental Attribution Error in critical thinking, a mental discipline and praxis is extremely low supply at the time of those tragic decisions,
Here are a few selected lines of Mr Blair’s defense:
‘Whether people agree or disagree with my decision…I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be best interests of country’
‘I did it because I thought it was right’
‘The hardest, most momentous, most agonizing decision of my life’.
And the Blair Fundamental Error of Leadership is there. In those three lines. It has nothing to do with the outcomes of the war, the promises to George Bush, the lack of planning of post-war, even the massaging of the messaging about Saddam’s possession of the infamous, invisible Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) with capabilities to launch and destroy in 45 minutes (not 50, not 65). All those may be deceptions, or incompetence or political manoeuvring, or a mixture of groupthink, confirmation bias and economies with the truth. I am not talking about them.
It has to do with the profound, intrinsic (Blair’s) belief that the whole thing, his leadership, is personal, that can be personalised; it’s about him, about what he thought, he felt, he believed, he had to decide. Him.
- Taking decisions in good faith is not here or there. It does not justify anything. Good faith for a leader is the starting point, the baseline, a pass, not the vehicle, not the outcome. Hitler made many decisions in good faith for the good of an idea called the Third Reich. On that, he acted with very, very good faith.
- ‘I did it because I thought it was right’, so did Hitler. What the leader things (he, personally, individually, as in the solitude of his own existence) is irrelevant in the context of leadership. Leadership is not about the leader. It’s not about one person. At least not outside North Korea.
- ‘The hardest, most momentous, most agonizing decision” of his life. He should not have had ‘solitary hardest, most momentous, most agonizing decisions’ because it was not about him, about the solitary leader.
The leader is not somebody in whom the rest of mortals devolve all responsibilities, all judgment, all decisions. This is a bad concept of leadership and a bad leader if he accepts this. Accepting this is accepting supernatural abilities of divine proportions. And I suspect something inside Mr Blair’ brain beeps when these words are said.
We systematically mistake and mixed up making decisions and leadership. The question is how those decisions are made. Based upon the ‘in good faith’ is a terrible fundamental error. We have made these distinctions difficult for ourselves by allowing thousand of analogies such leadership and piloting. Yes, the pilot pilots the plane and you trust him. He is not your leader. He is the pilot of your plane. The neurosurgeon takes over and takes out the tumour. He is in charge. And makes decisions on spot. He has the expertise. He is not your leader.
Leader, sorry, it’s not about you. Good faith, ‘because it’s right’, or the size of your genitalia are equally stupid arguments. There are the foundations of the Blair Fundamental Error. Avoid that trap. ‘In good faith’ is the true WMD of Leadership.