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Is Boris Too Big for the Team?

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London's Lord Mayor has come clean and announced his intention to stand as a Member of Parliament. Commentators have jumped on Boris Johnson's announcement as evidence that he covets the Prime Minister's crown, hardly a startling revelation. Cameron knows that Johnson would like his job one day which makes him far less dangerous to the PM than others close to him who clumsily mask that ambition. David Cameron's cool-headed response to Boris' declaration was to express delight at having his star player on the pitch. Cameron is no fool. With political heavyweights like William Hague and Michael Gove not even on the subs' bench, Boris will add bulk to the Tory team and appeal to fans less than pleased with their party's efforts. Cameron knows a star attraction when he sees one and he is not exactly surrounded by them.

The Prime Minister has demonstrated his ability to share the limelight too. Either Samantha Cameron has coated her husband with Hubris Factor 50 to protect him from excess narcissism or the main man genuinely does not crave centre stage. He has allowed George Osborne to soak up the applause for Britain's relative economic recovery and has even on occasion gifted stage time to his Deputy, Nick Clegg, despite the Lib Dem leader's propensity to depart from the Coalition script.

Cambridge academic Mark de Rond asserts that there is an 'I' in team. http://hbr.org/product/there-is-an-i-in-team-what-elite-athletes-and-coac/an/10412-HBK-ENG High performance teams, he suggests, benefit from variations in skills, personalities, even rivalry between team members. Cameron appears to subscribe to this view and will indulge the big 'I' in Boris for the good of the team.

'Is Boris too big for the team?' is a question best answered by the man himself and by members of Cameron's inner circle for, as de Rond says, "team decisions require individuals to commit to others and to be accountable for their performance to their peers. Should they choose to commit, they will only ever do so for reasons of their own". Should Boris win a safe seat, should the Tories win the next election and should Boris be gifted a Cabinet position - the first is the least dangerous of these three assumptions - will Boris commit, even for reasons of his own, to his Cabinet chums and will they commit to him?

Boris has work to do. His recent cajoling of Cameron to take a harder-line stance on future negotiations with the EU can legitimately be viewed as the voice of a critical friend. Cameron can take it. However, covert criticism of Osborne, one of the more obvious contenders to succeed Cameron, will endear him neither to the Chancellor nor to others in Cameron's circle of less secure consiglieri. Boris' stage whispers will breed needless suspicion and mistrust. His linguistic cleverness and roguish irreverence may be a hit with the fans, but closer to home, his colleagues will be sharpening their secateurs to prune their floppy-haired tall poppy.

The Peter Principle posits that in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence. Servius Galba very swiftly failed to live up to the standard expected of an Emperor. Gordon Brown's performance was less impressive in No. 10 Downing Street than it had been next door. Philip Clarke worked his way up from the Tesco shop floor to become the supermarket's chief executive in 2011. The response to his resignation in June after the worst trading results in a decade was a share price increase of 2%. The Peter Principle can be cruel but it is, for the vast majority of us, best embraced before we disappoint ourselves and others. Even Boris' loudest detractors would concur that the London Mayor is some distance short of his level of incompetence.

More challenging for Johnson is the Pietersen Principle, one of my own invention, which posits that in a team, every star player's ego tends to become too big for the team. Kevin Pietersen's 13,797 runs for his country and the manner in which he scored them made him one of the most exciting talents ever to play for England. His ego eventually became unmanageable, at least for those at The English Cricket Board who earlier this year concluded that the England cricket team would be better off without him. The subsequent and rapid demise of the team's performance gave Pietersen's supporters lashings of schadenfreude, though they may now have mild indigestion after England's two recent victories against India.

Does British cycling champion Bradley Wiggins prove my Pietersen Principle? He was dropped by Team Sky for this summer's Tour de France, his inability to co-exist with team rival Chris Froome a warning to Boris as he cycles alongside his Chancellor. It is only a matter of time before Luis Suarez, Uruguayan professional footballer now at Barcelona FC, becomes the pin-up poster for the Pietersen Principle. Found guilty by the English Football Association of racial abuse, known to have bitten three opponents, the latest Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup, and a confessor to the art of diving, Suarez is indulged by his appeasers because he is 'one of the greatest strikers in the world'. It is telling that Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool FC's manager who, Blair-like, needs copious time in front of the camera to affirm his sense of self and who is on the record as 'admiring not just the player but the man', has been eerily silent since Suarez took a chunk out of Chiellini.

Happily there are those who disprove the Pietersen Principle. Perhaps Boris will rank alongside Eric Cantona, the player most responsible for Manchester United's revival as a winning team, or Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, whose commitment to teammates transcend their individual talents. Mere mortals at Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, those who play in Ryder Cup winning teams, the gold-winning gymnasts at the Commonwealth Games know the disproportionate value to their teams of an Eric Cantona or a sixteen year old Claudia Fragapane. They subsume their own ambition and egos. Can the Tory top dogs bury their envy about the ebullient Boris' popular appeal? Can they forgive his operational weaknesses? Can they tolerate his ambition? Can they subsume their own personal agendas?

They need to because Team Tory badly needs Boris and Boris, whose insecurity is there for all to see behind the brilliant, bumbling comic turn, badly needs Team Tory. He needs to use this election as an unglamorous, barely visible stint as a circus underman. With some heavy lifting he can graciously improve the reputation of some of his cabinet colleagues. A brief bow for Boris should follow only when those at the top of the pyramid have hoovered up the applause, if there is to be any to be had.

For their part, his cabinet colleagues - or comrades in opposition - need to get over the fact that Boris has earned his popularity over many years, with skill, charm and a dose of natural charisma. Like sex appeal, you either have it or you do not. Manchester United's Paul Scholes was as gifted a footballer as Ryan Giggs, and certainly more gifted than David Beckham. Did the sublime midfielder mind that Becks' shirts sold in significantly greater quantities than his own? George Osborne, Theresa May and others with their eyes on the Prime Ministerial prize would do well to follow Cameron's example. Leaders create leaders. They need to help Boris be the best he can be. Perversely this will improve their own chance one day to bag the top job, a job to which Boris is not, in my view, best suited. For, applying the Peter Principle, I believe Boris might have the makings of a fine Foreign Secretary but he would soon reach his level of incompetence as a Prime Minister.

Richard Hytner is Adjunct Associate Professor of Marketing, London Business School, and Deputy Chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. His book, Consiglieri: Leading From The Shadows, was published on 4th June 2014 by Profile Books. www.consiglieribook.com

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