Insight article

Catching the mood

An interesting comment piece by Hugh Muir appeared on the Guardian this morning about Boris Johnson’s response to a housing development that installed a set of pigeon-esque spikes (“Boris spikes”?) on the ground to deter rough sleepers. The article brings up a few great narrative-crafting lessons.

First, there’s the headline: ‘Boris berating the anti-homelessness spikes shows what a ruthless pragmatist he is’.

That’s enough to give pause, since at first glance it would seem it’s the property developers, the ones who installed the spikes, who are the ‘ruthless pragmatists’. The writer’s suggestion is that this is not simply a show of the mayor’s good will. He’s got lots to gain by tapping into London’s emotional nerve, and he’s good at finding it.

Boris certainly understands that politics is about poetry, not prose, which becomes clear during the mayor’s question time when the depth of his wonkiness repeatedly revealed as wanting.

There’s a narrative to the culture of London as a place of fair play and decency. And though Boris’s Tory policies may not emphasize a cuddly approach to homelessness, he’s happy to lead the attack on a developer’s ruthlessly pragmatic approach to ‘solving’ it.

Is there a lesson for business leaders here? It’s not necessarily the obvious cynical one, that leaders must be cunning and opportunistic, presenting themselves differently to different audiences. Indeed, we know that authenticity place a huge role in winning emotional buy-in internally.

More importantly, as Muir notes, Boris ‘emphasises that for the modern politician it is as important to catch the mood as it is to master detail’. The same is true for leaders from politics to business units to global enterprises. There’s always a narrative, and almost always some emotional energy in an institution. It’s essential first to understand it, and then to attempt to implement change by channelling it certain directions.

Nailia Tasseel