Theresa May Belbin and Metaprogram Patterns

Has Theresa May got the right thinking for the job? This brief post looks at a hypothesis of May’s thinking patterns and what this tells us about whether she her thinking patterns are what we need right now.

In order to look at this I’m going to use two ways of looking at thinking patterns – Belbin and Metaprograms. Patterns themselves are neither good nor bad and their usefulness depends on the situation.

Belbin got their practitioners to undertake an observational assessment of May around the time of the 2017 General Election. Her top four Belbin Team Roles were:

  • Shaper
  • Implementer
  • Specialist
  • Completer Finisher

and the roles she is most uncomfortable in:

  • Co-ordinator
  • Team Worker
  • Plant

From this we can infer that May’s preferences are to shape and implement other people’s ideas. She may be a technical specialist in a narrow field but is not a good generalist. Her least preferred roles imply that she is least comfortable in the more social roles of a team; such as building relationships and getting the team to pull together.

The observed least preferred role is Plant. The role that comes up with options and ideas.


Metaprograms are a way of describing patterns of behaviour. Ideally we have a range of behaviours and can flex between bipolar pairs e.g. opposite behaviours on a spectrum. Metaprograms can be contextual to the situation we are in and are influenced by our beliefs about ourselves and others. However, in times of stress or high pressure it is likely that our patterns of behaviour become more pronounced.

These are my hypothesis of May’s most prominent metaprogram patterns based on observation and language patterns. (They are many more).

Internal referenced or Externally Referenced

This relates to feedback. May’s feedback about whether something is good or bad is internal to her. Therefore external feedback is data and not an instruction to be acted upon. This pattern is largely thought to be ‘hard wired’ and not subject to change. My hypothesis is that May is very internally referenced and therefore it would be hard to influence her thinking unless she had decided you were worth listening to. It is common for Leaders to display this behaviour pattern (Brown, Corbyn, Blair) and the upside of an internally referenced pattern is increased resilience amongst other things. However, it is greatly influenced in terms of effect by other thinking patterns.

Task vs People

May’s overwhelming priority is to get the job done – she has a task rather than people orientation. She will probably have a tick list and tick the jobs off as she does them. She may think about whether she has the right people for the job or the importance of developing relationships with those people but that is secondary to the job. It may even be a bullet point on her tick list e..g appoint a foreign secretary -√

It’s not a bad trait in of itself (I mean who hasn’t got a tick list of some kind) but again May is at the extreme end of this pattern and building relationships does not come naturally to her.

Process vs Options

May’s preferred place (as seen in the Belbin team roles) is to follow the process and procedure. It is not to come up with new ideas. We can see this from her time at the Home Office and it has continued on. This is probably why Article 50 was triggered when it was – it was the next step on the process. Unfortunately right now, probably what we need more than anything else is ideas.

Independent, Proximity, Co-operative

Do you prefer working alone, a preference for mutual support with individual responsibility or working closely together with shared responsibility.
It is likely that May prefers getting on with the job, getting her head down and getting on with it; hence the specialist role in Belbin. Her preference is not doing joint work in a team and can be seen in her speeches when she uses ‘I’ language.


So what does this tell us? May is and always would have difficulty leading a team of peers or indeed other leaders as she needs to be in a ‘telling’ and ‘doing’ role. She wants to get on and get the job done (preferably by herself or by other people doing things in the way she would do it. T

Her lack of relational working leads people to think she is low trust (which diminished loyalty to her) and lead her to put less importance on building relationships and valuing the time this takes (see how she is with EU leaders and her low interactions with the British Public). This ultimately may bring her downfall both internally from her own party and from the public as people want to have a relationship with their Leaders (remember what happened to Gordon Brown).

Primarily though her downfall may be the very thing that people were excited about when she first became leader. They thought she would get on with the job in hand and get the job done. And it is exactly this that is the issue. Her patterns lack balance and are not tempered with others which can balance out her extremes. May is not a team worker and doesn’t necessarily value others ways of working particularly if they are different (internal reference). The people aspect of leadership can look like fluff but it is precisely this fluff that is needed to get a hard job done and bring people with you.

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