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The UK is OK thanks to GB

22/09/2014 13:47 BST | Updated 21/11/2014 10:59 GMT

'No' to independence from the UK meant 'yes' to dependence on GB. At the eleventh hour, Gordon Brown the former Prime Minister trumped Scotland's First Minister with authenticity, humility and outstanding oratory.

The Scottish Referendum has salutary lessons for leadership. Gordon Brown's convincing contribution to the 'No' campaign offers at least one: we should pause long and hard before exiting or exiling leaders we deem surplus to our new needs.

How ironic that those withering in their assessment of Gordon Brown's performance as Prime Minister were forced to rely heavily on his excellent and impassioned advocacy to see off the SNP. Was this the same Gordon Brown whose judgement was clouded by Tony Blair's broken promise over the timing of his turn at the top? Was this the same Gordon Brown who, by his own and others' leadership standards, so badly disappointed when he eventually moved from No. 11 to No. 10 Downing Street?

To become and remain Chancellor of the Exchequer for as long as he did, suggests that Brown was a competent and credible leader if, at times, a brooding and brutal one. His punishment for failing in the highest office was the humiliation of abandonment by the party he had served for a political lifetime. Brown warned of the 'Yes' camp's appeal and the 'No' camp's complacency, and offered to help his Labour colleagues. Ed Milliband, Brown's successor and protégé, preferred to distance himself from his former boss. Forget that the man had wisdom to impart and a point to prove. Discount his passion to win this particular fight - Brown's provenance gave him a deep connection to the cause. Nope, to the party's new leaders, Gordon was an embarrassment, the guy who just lost Labour the election. One hopes that this weekend Sarah Brown treated her husband to a side of schadenfreude with his scrambled eggs.

It is not only Milliband who should now be lavishing his erstwhile leader with lashings of gratitude. Her Majesty the Queen can relax, her realm not crudely down-sized; the royal corgis can roam Balmoral as landlords not trespassers; the Governor of the Bank of England, investors and chief executives can leave both loot and business locations untouched.

David Cameron marked his Referendum relief by sharing a papadom or two with his political pals. The plot they cooked up over a curry, and the speed of the announcement that England and Wales deserved the same devolved powers as those promised to Scotland, contained more spice than most had anticipated and significantly more than Ed Milliband could stomach.

Gratitude to Gordon should endure beyond his Referendum renaissance. His stellar performance has further exposed our nation's futile obsession with failure. It also supports the idea that a life in leadership transcends title and tenure in a single role. The thought that Gordon Brown's greatest political triumph may have been won not as Chancellor, nor as Prime Minister, but as an elder statesman without office, should offer lasting hope to leaders throughout all organisations.

Why stamp those who vacate the top dog's office with a past-their-sell-by date or insist on a 'former leader' label? Once a leader, always a leader. Why the race to conclusive condemnation of a leader's credentials on the basis of just one balls-up? When our leaders overstep the mark, succumb to hubris, stop listening and become excessively narcissistic - predictably, most do - in large part we have ourselves to blame. It suits us to invest just one individual with overarching accountability. It lets the rest of us off the hook. In today's winner-takes-all popular culture, in which we celebrate the X Factor, and dismiss those without it with a Lord Sugar-coated, 'You're Fired!', we search for the charismatic, heroic leaders who can rise above, and withstand, the onslaught of social media. Look at what America has done to arguably the most promising President since JFK. Evangelised as the answer to every prevailing problem, emasculated by Republican envy and intransigence, Barack Obama has journeyed from light of the world to lame duck in the blink of an eye.

For eleven years David Moyes was universally admired as the highly accomplished manager of Everton Football Club. It took just ten months in charge at Manchester United to conclude that he was the new pin up for the Peter Principle, whereby all of us, at some stage, reach our own level of incompetence. Of course, he had a hand in the dramatic diminution of his leadership reputation, but we too quickly overlook situational context and too easily ignore other factors that mask the truth. The implausibility of Moyes' success was inked into his employment contract.

David Moyes, Philip Clarke, former CEO at Tesco, François Hollande, the currently unpopular and, one day, former President of France, will all doubtless be judged to have failed at the peak of their powers. Can historians be tempted to cut these leaders some slack? Will they record that all were willing to have a go at the top job, knowing full well that success was never a shoo-in and that humiliation in the history books was, if not guaranteed, a realistic return for their efforts? Or might they yet pre-empt the historian's damning assessment, with an unexpected, welcome leadership intervention in a new role that cements a huge, enduring impact like that of Brown? Whether sought or imposed by circumstance, time spent away from the limelight can be liberating and productive for a leader, as Nicolas Sarozy hinted recently. It has given the former French President time to reflect on what is important, 'without the weight of power that twists human interaction.'

For showing that leadership can have a long shelf-life, even the defeated, deflated Alex Salmond may have Gordon Brown to thank. No longer burdened by the weight of power, and assuming he can soon stop sulking, the soon-to-be former First Minister has the opportunity to create a leadership legacy that stretches beyond bringing his country to the brink of independence. As for Gordon, he needs to go easy on the curtain calls and get back to the shadows. It appears that cameo not centre-stage roles suit him best.

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

Follow Richard @RichardHytner