“Just call me Tony,” said Anthony Charles Lynton Blair in 1997 opening his first cabinet meeting, setting the tone for a more relaxed, affable style of leadership.
Almost 20 years on, amidst endless speculation on Blair’s leadership decisions as a PM and his post leadership business ventures, and the man the New York Times branded a “mellifluous enabler” hints at a return to British politics in a recent interview with Esquire.
Blair is the only living Labour ex-PM to have won three elections: the question is, why?
When we look at reports of Blair at Oxford, we hear of a man not greatly interested in political organisations (surprising perhaps given his father’s dashed political hopes), a guitarist, charming and happy to partake in all aspects of student life.
After Oxford, Blair moved into law and when we cut to 1997 as Blair took power, this relaxed style was demonstrated once more as be pronounces himself of the ‘rock and roll generation.’
In prepared scenarios such as a speech given in 2005, Blair is composed: “When they try and intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed.”
What is particularly revealing though are Blair’s comments upon his time as PM.
"I always found it a bit odd when people talked about ‘enjoying’ being prime minister." -Tony Blair
In October’s 25th anniversary issue of Esquire magazine, he said: “I always found it a bit odd when people talked about ‘enjoying’ being prime minister. I think some people do, by the way, but I would never describe it that way. You have a huge sense of purpose but I found the decisions of such magnitude that it was hard to enjoy it very often.”
Whilst Blair was often accused of spin and acting, his recent comments suggest that Blair sometimes found it difficult to reconcile or maintain his chosen image with the demands of his position. In times of stress, such as during the infamous speech to the WI in June 2000 whereby the slow clapping of the audience caused Blair to become visibly rattled, you can see the mask begin to slip.
Similarly, when grilled by Jeremy Paxman about reconciling his personal values with the source of donations to the labour party, Blair becomes frustrated, sighing and eventually declaring “Well, I’ve said what I’ve said on it”.
This is consistent with dark and bright side theory: we all have a natural inclination to portray ourselves to others in a certain way, but when we are under strain it becomes impossible to maintain this image and our dark side traits emerge.
Dark side theory suggests there are 11 ‘derailers’ which are bright side traits that have the potential to become dark during stressful times.
Whilst Blair was often accused of spin and acting, his recent comments suggest that Blair sometimes found it difficult to reconcile or maintain his chosen image with the demands of his position.
One such ‘derailer’ is 'excitable' which can manifest in its dark form as inconsistent or easily disappointed, in line perhaps with Blair’s behaviour under stress when frustration and disappointment at not being heard and listened to emerges.
Indeed, in the Esquire interview of 2016, the interviewer Alex Bilmes talks of Blair’s regular non-verbal expressions of dissatisfaction, the eye rolls, the frowning, grimacing; “when he’s bored or frustrated he looks bored and frustrated.”
We all are said to possess these bright/dark side traits, and in low to moderate levels they are manageable in the workplace.
There will always be workplace stress that challenges our interpersonal abilities but with self-evaluation, monitoring, development and, it has to be said, a natural fit to the position you are in, it is possible to present yourself as you would wish to be seen; professional and in control no matter what happens.
About Paul Russell
Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, For more info visit www.luxuryacademy.co.uk.
Luxury Academy is a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.