The One Flaw in Theresa May’s Leadership approach to Brexit

When stubbornness turns into tunnel vision…

Since Theresa May became Prime Minister in 2016, we have been exposed to her relentless determination to deliver Brexit. She has made the case for Brexit based on the result of the referendum regardless of how divided all who stand in front of her are.

Her determination to deliver has created an unswerving approach in the tactics she has used. Even when it nearly cost her the majority she had in parliament. Theresa May’s decision to call a general election weakened her position considerably, creating a hung parliament.

The negotiating position of the UK had been defined by Theresa May drawing a clear definition of the type of Brexit she wanted. Her red line of leaving the custom’s union created challenges far outside of trading agreements. It is this position that gives cause to the dreaded backstop.

Since the withdrawal agreement was publicised on the 14th November 2018 that determination has been tested intensely. But Theresa May has stood firm. Resolute in her focus to deliver the deal.

Her stubbornness, without a doubt, her greatest strength. It sounds admirable, doesn't it?

A leader with an absolute focus on achieving one goal, to deliver Brexit. That focus, that determination. A stubbornness that when seen in other leaders is defined as an essential leadership skill.

When does a strength become a flaw?

This is a point I have considered a lot over the last few months. Especially when it comes to the leadership capabilities of our Prime Minister, Theresa May.

It concerns me because I can see how divided we are as a nation, how divided our MP’s are as well.

Don’t get me wrong. One of the benefits of living in a democracy is that we can disagree. The system of democracy enables us to find a common or popular viewpoint and support that view as a collective.

The role of a leader within that democracy is to take those viewpoints and make them happen. Theresa May has done this.


We are divided because leaving the EU is a huge deal. Whatever your preference, the outcome of leaving and the terms we leave under will have repercussions for years to come.

Whatever your preference, the outcome of leaving and the terms we leave under will have repercussions for years to come.

Leaders within a democracy also have another responsibility to the people they represent. To lead. To do so by unifying the collective, by listening to others, collaborating and establishing the vision for the future.

When Stubbornness turns into Tunnel Vision

The flaw in Theresa May’s leadership is that her stubbornness has turned into tunnel vision. It is my view that she has become so caught up in delivering Brexit that tunnel vision has shut her off from seeing the bigger picture.

Firstly, the decision to call a general election in 2017 was an error. It gave the capacity for democracy to show its indifference to unity. The election was fought on the arguments surrounding no-deal Brexit, a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit.

Theresa May’s tunnel vision showed little capacity to see that a no-deal Brexit or hard Brexit frightened voters. This was best demonstrated by the red line of insisting that we leave the customs union.

The withdrawal agreement has suffered two significant defeats in parliament votes and yet Mrs May’s continued stance is that her deal is the only way forward.

Despite the defeats, Theresa May’s tunnel vision remains firm. Another demonstration of it came from her statement on the 20th of March 2019.

Her statement to the public laid the blame at everyone’s else door other than her own. It was the fault of the MP’s that we cannot agree on Brexit, she said.

Tunnel Vision, the final confirmation of the flaw

The worse thing about tunnel vision is that it truly limits the vision, the goal you set out to achieve.

At the EU27 on the 21st of March Theresa May’s extension request was discussed and questioned by the EU27 leaders.

She told the other leaders that the withdrawal agreement would be voted on again next week.

“What if it doesn’t pass? What happens then?”

A shrug of the shoulders. No plan B. That’s why the EU set out an alternative extension plan to the one that had been submitted. The EU leaders, though possessing stubborn qualities have the vision to see the damage that not having a plan B could have.

The Tunnel Vision nightmare…

All of these indicators suggest to me that tunnel vision is deeply implanted as a behaviour trait of Theresa May. Her stubbornness, that I spoke about as being an absolute strength has led to her biggest flaw. Her weakness in shutting herself from other peoples views. To see the bigger picture.

I’m not sure how much longer Theresa May will be Prime Minister. It could be a few weeks, or maybe a few months until the Conservative party can hold another leadership vote.

One thing is for sure until she has time to step away from her role, she is unlikely to see the limited view that the tunnel vision has created for her.

In my view, what leads a leader to a tunnel vision view is detail. When you become stuck in the detail of something as a leader, you instantly lose sight of the bigger picture. The long game, and make no mistake. As a leader that’s the game, you have to play.

It isn’t the first time we have seen it, especially in politics. George W Bush and Tony Blair were both guilty of suffering from the same problem over Iraq.

It is an ugly leadership challenge. Being stubborn, yet open to seeing the bigger picture.

What steps would you take to avoid suffering from Tunnel Vision?

I’m curious about the process of making personal — and business decisions. Follow me as I explore this through my writing.

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