The BBC website, youtube and the front pages of two national dailies have been swift to pick up on London Mayor Boris Johnson’s ‘Bicycle Crash’ interview with Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, yesterday, March 24.
Mr Mair positioned the 15 minute interview very clearly from the start: “Now before we talk about you, let’s talk about immigration”. From there he asked Mr Johnson about the Olympic Stadium.
So Mr Johnson knew what was coming next. Or did he? And what can we learn as a result?
About half-way through (7:19) Mr Mair changed tack: “I know we could talk about this all day (Mr Johnson’s view of the great deal secured by the government on the Olympic Stadium for the taxpayer) but I want to talk about you” and proceeded to skewer Mr Johnson in the next five minutes, calling into question his suitability for high office (as Prime Minister one day?), as his integrity fell under the spot-light of Mr Mair’s laser like focus. His coyness to talk about himself was to this viewer merely thinly veiled disingenuousness – “I want to avoid that” – particularly as he is the subject of documentary maker Michael Cockerell’s programme ‘Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise’ which will be shown on BBC2 today, Monday March 25, 9pm and seems only to happy to talk about himself in the clips already on the BBC website.
To paraphrase Mohammed Ali, Mr Mair danced like a butterfly in his skilful questioning and he stung Mr Johnson like a bee several times to lethal effect, continually outmanoeuvring his ‘guest’.
So this morning, Mr Johnson may be feeling punch-drunk. I wonder if he is licking his wounds, wondering how to salvage some positives – let alone his ambitions as a leader in the political arena – from his disastrous and poorly prepared performance? Does he even realise he has been in a ‘car crash’ interview? He will, I feel sure, find some way to spin this bicycle crash in his favour. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, what can we learn from both Mr Mair and Mr Johnson about how to conduct ourselves, personally and professionally?
From Mr Mair there are three key lessons…
- Preparation is key. He had clearly done his homework. He had seen the documentary about Mr Johnson (who hadn’t) and was informed and prepared. This was clearly no one-off. It was also the case with Mr Mair’s next guest, the actor, Henry Goodman. Mr Mair disclosed that he had been to the Old Vic the previous afternoon to see the revival of Terence Rattigan’s revival ‘The Winslow Boy’ in which Mr Goodman stars. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the play is about integrity. Preparation gave Mr Mair the confidence of knowing his subject.
- Have the courage of your convictions. If he had concerns about negative repercussions, either personal or professional, he didn’t let them show. He repeatedly challenged and focused on Mr Johnson’s integrity because he believed it was right to do so and drew even greater confidence from those convictions accordingly.
- Integrity is everything. He made it clear in his positioning what he wanted to talk about. And introduced the deeper issue – our actions and behaviour are manifestations of our beliefs, values and most important of all, our integrity, especially for those representing us in public service. Without integrity, everything is just a deceit. Nowhere is this more brilliantly demonstrated than in actor Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Congressman and fixer Francis “Frank” Underwood in the political thriller ‘House of Cards’ now airing on Netflix, reprising and updating the role originally created by Ian Richardson in the 1990’s.
And the lessons from Mr Johnson are very similar…
- Preparation v Ego. A person who is extremely proud of his or her abilities will often suffer a setback or failure because he or she tends to be overconfident and to make errors of judgement. He gave the perception that he had just ‘shown up and winged it’. If he had been advised or coached, it didn’t show. Does he believe in his abilities to such an extent that it will be the undoing of him? Did he let his ego get in the way? And does he even have the self-awareness to know that the interview was a serious set-back? Is this Mr Johnson’s biggest blind-spot?
- Integrity is everything. This is particularly true of those in public life – though none of us exempt – and when there is a pattern of behaviour, we can lose the trust others place in us in an instant. Mr Johnson is not the first, nor will he be the last. History repeats itself. This blog recently covered Chris Huhne’s fall from grace for a serious lapse in his integrity.
- An acceptance of responsibility He failed to acknowledge that Mr Mair had a different point of view from his own about his integrity. This means listening, without interruption and then acknowledging. It doesn’t mean agreeing. Had he done so, he could have cut short that part of the interview, leaving Mr Mair with nowhere else to go. Instead, he was continually reeling on the back foot, justifying his actions, making him appear weak and prolonging his agony.
So if you’ve seen the interview or read the press comment, what do you think? What’s your experience? Have you had a ‘car crash experience’? What did you learn and what have you done as a result?
Post a reply or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org It will be great to hear from you.