Julia Middleton of Common Purpose gives me the creeps

At the 2014 CSCLeaders programme, there was a talk by Julia Middleton. She was the founder and CEO of Common Purpose. CSCLeaders is run by Common Purpose and is the current incarnation of the Commonwealth Study Conferences founded by HRH Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1956.

I’ve been trying to work out what it is about this woman’s speaking that gives me the creeps. Surely it’s more than the fact that the head of a company that trains business people should be capable of delivering a speech without cue cards. I wonder if she uses them because she enjoys the little repetitive ritual of donning and doffing her spectacles? Is it to give her hands something to do? At any rate I trust that public speaking is not on their curriculum, or this glaring shortcoming places huge question marks over the rest of what they teach.

I know very little about Common Purpose except what I have gleaned from their website; but what I see makes me uneasy. For one thing there’s an incontinent splashing-around of the word ‘leader’. It’s a good word that does not deserve to be thus cheapened by over-use. I detest it when politicians use it for themselves, and it’s not just because I happen to know the German and Italian translations of “The Leader”. Politicians are people delegated by the rest of us to run things – and by “things” I mean as little as is absolutely necessary. When politicians assume the title of ‘leader; it seems to coincide with their arrogating the right to stick their grubby fingers into matters that are none of their business. And anyway, it is up to others to bestow the ‘leader’ title upon someone. Assuming the title for yourself is gauche and a nonsense.

Back to Julia Middleton and her speech (btw she calls herself a leader). Within the first minute she indulges in hagiolatry with respect to her father. It was cringe-making when Margaret Thatcher did it, it is no less so here. There is nothing wrong with passionate admiration for a parent, but keep it to yourself. If you want to quote them in a speech call them “someone I used to know” – or some-such.

Middleton employs a device beloved of George W Bush to draw the sting from a comment believed to be otherwise too harsh. It’s a phony smile that doesn’t extend to the eyes. She deploys it first at 2:33, and my toes curl.

The content of the first half – or thereabouts – of the speech concerns ‘core’ and ‘flex’. If you are desperate to know more watch the speech, but they are merely the sort of elementary concept that you find in self-help books at the lower end of the market. There: I’ve just saved you around ten minutes of your valuable time.

She then swings into the subject of a book she appears to have written on the subject of ‘cultural intelligence’. Intelligence can mean mental acuity or information acquired covertly. This is neither. Having forced myself to yawn and wince my way through this I can best sum up ‘cultural intelligence’ as a rather flabby variety of relativism. That’s another ten minutes I’ve saved you.

At 26:42 “I thought last night, and I thought ‘what are the eight things I’m going to suggest to them…”

What, in heaven’s name, is the value of a list that starts out with an arbitrary number of empty spaces which you then set about filling? A proper list creates itself the other way round with a range of items which you then count and write down. This is pitiful!

What really bothers me is that the above list is intended to help the audience embark on a week of this sort of thing. Who the hell is so under-employed that they can afford to throw away a week of subjecting themselves to such pointless garbage? You’ve got to be a bit of a lame-brain, a masochist, or an exceedingly conscientious blogger, to sit through this 35 minutes. I actually sat through it twice, not quite believing that it could be quite as awful as I’d thought. That counts as ‘above and beyond the call of duty’.

Anyone in that audience with genuine leadership qualities as distinct from being a sad little individual, desperate to belong to a self-satisfied clique of similar souls, would demonstrate it by making their excuses and leaving for the real grown-up world.