The appointment of Rishi Sunak to the position of British PM made headlines back in October 2022. Since then, his popularity has ebbed and flowed, and is currently on the low side based on 2023 polls. And yet, Rishi Sunak the man continues to inspire awe, both for his origin story as the son of middle-class Indian parents and for his polished Conservative image. Regardless of his political calibre, there is much a leader of any kind can learn from how Mr Sunak conducts himself. As a PR agency that has worked extensively with top industry leaders, here are some key lessons we can point out from his tenure so far.
- Own up to mistakes with grace – Mistakes will happen, but trying to deny or justify them will only make things worse, especially for a public leader. Rishi Sunak has faced intense grilling in Parliament for questionable decisions of his, especially with regard to Brexit, but he has handled them with humility and is endeavouring to make amends, as evidenced by his recent visit to Northern Ireland. Political decisions can always go either way – what the nation expects is a leader who will take ownership of those decisions, which is also a critical part of leading a company.
- Embrace innovation – No country can progress without change. And the best leaders are those who continue to push for changes that advocate the long-term good. Rishi Sunak’s recent establishment of the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology has received some criticism for detracting attention from pending bills and reforms. And yet, Mr Sunak chose to go with it so that British technology and start-ups can finally get the impetus they need to turn Britain into a global industrial hub. Some decisions may not seem immediately helpful, and there will always be an adjustment period, but if you as a leader are convinced that it matters for the greater good, you can eventually win your team over.
- Don’t get swayed by public opinion (good or bad) – To Indians, especially, his election marks a turning point of sorts. Many are rejoicing in the fact that an Indian now “rules” Britain after 250 years of British rule. Mr Sunak, wisely, steers clear of any such representation of himself. He does not see his appointment as a corrective measure for Britain’s colonisation – he is a staunch Tory and a staunch Briton, with views that do not necessarily prioritise Indians or immigrants over the good of the country. And that marks a true leader, one who puts genuine convictions based on experience before what the people might want the leader to be.
- Build a memorable image – Rishi Sunak has long been a popular favourite for his polished appearance and dignified appearance. He brings with him a successful background as an investment banker and as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his marriage into the prestigious Murthy family gives him further heft among the large British Indian population. Leaders seeking to have a long-term impact should seek to cultivate their own unique persona, be it through their unconventional takes, thought-provoking write-ups or arresting public speeches.
- Stay true to who you are – Mr Sunak is of Indian origin, and while he does not favour Indians on that count, he is proud of his heritage. On Diwali, he publicly lit a lamp at 10 Downing Street – a much-photographed moment – and has affirmed his commitment to work with Indian PM Narendra Modi on challenges that both countries face. Balancing one’s ethnic and national identity can be hard, and yet, Mr Sunak has done so with grace through a long and storied career. It’s an excellent lesson in owning who you are, which every company seeking to build a legacy should emulate.
Whether or not the new PM will steer Britain out of muddy waters remains to be seen. What we can say with certainty is this – Rishi Sunak represents a paradigm shift in representation, for Indians as well as all people of colour, while his commitment to Tory values gives him heft as he navigates the undercurrents of discontent in his party. His dignity, political staunchness, moving speeches and quiet pride in his background make him a memorable role model to leaders and changemakers of all kinds. And for those who seek to make their own change, we at Star Squared PR are proud to offer world-class media training and support that have helped shape many of today’s industry leaders.