I learned about leading from: that walk!

On a recent trip to far away lands, I found myself with some daylight time to kill.  So without too much thought I took myself off in a car to a (reasonably) local tourist spot; the top of a very large hill named “Mount Erie”.  The top of this mount promised 360-degree views of the vicinity and I could drive almost to the top.  It sounded ideal.

Sadly, when I arrived, I was presented with two large signs in quick succession; the first said that the road “was not maintained for winter conditions” and the second that “the road is closed”.  Anyhow, being more than a tad stubborn, and having my mind set on seeing this great view, I parked my car and proceeded on foot……only to realise, soon enough, that my (office shoe) footwear was entirely inappropriate!!  Yes I could have not gone, yes I could have stuck purely to the (long and windy…) road….  But I love a bit of adventure so up the rustic paths I went.

views and shoesThe views at the top were simply breath-taking and well worth the journey.  The sun was in full bloom and soon to set and created the most amazing colours in all the nature around me.  Wonderful.  But then the journey back down as dusk set in was more than a tad precarious!!

All this got me reflecting on our leadership!!

  • How often do we carry through with a plan simply because our heart is set on it, rather than review all options first?
  • How often do we proceed with plans before we have checked that we (and our teams) are properly equipped, not just for now (boots would have been good!) but also for the understood future (a torch or headlamp would have been useful as the sun came down!)??
  • When do we ever get really clear on the personal and team benefits (WIIFM?) of success and articulate these to all (including ourselves)

Yes, the results can be amazing and exhilarating and extremely gratifying, but sometimes they can turn out disastrous and even destructive.

I did realise that in my leadership career I have followed similar “unplanned paths” several times before, and whilst they can generate some extra-ordinary results, they more often than not generate simply more of the same and/or mediocrity.  As leaders, our job is to guide people to the “above mediocre” place and watch them thrive and excel as individuals and as a cohesive team.

So, my challenge today is…

  • Which goal(s) are you unhealthily connected too?
  • Have you considered in which ways this may NOT happen, and what you will be doing about it?
  • Have you got your team to compile the necessary “equipment” for the task at hand and ensured they have each item to hand?

Looking back, I can see that several times I would have created a much more successful team result, simply by asking myself these simple questions and acting accordingly.  I can only urge you to try these things, play and learn!

After all, iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker

I learned about leading from: That Head

salutingQuite early on in my career, I discovered that our Commanding Officer was known as “The Head”.  I thought that this nickname might reflect the authority of his position at the top of our organisation – the Headmaster or the Head Honcho, if you like – but over the next few months, the full nickname was revealed.  He was in fact known as “The Head in the Car”.  Each morning, he would walk from his front door, get into his official car, be driven to the front of the office building and he would go inside and disappear into his office until the end of the day, when the journey would be repeated in reverse.  On both journeys, his car would pass through the security barriers where the duty personnel would open the gate, salute and close it behind him.  All they ever saw was “the Head in the car”.  They even began to speculate that what they were seeing was actually a robotic head on a stick that was there to spoof us, and that we were in fact being controlled by some form of artificial intelligence network (this was the time of the first Terminator film).

A few months later, we were called to the parade ground to wait for an announcement from the Commanding Officer.  We formed a hollow square and The Head appeared from the office block to explain to us that we would soon be hosting a VVIP visit and as a result our planned summer leave might well be disrupted.  As he finished speaking, a voice was heard to say in a loud stage whisper “I know who the VVIP is but who the hell is that?”.  How we laughed, particularly as the miscreant was marched off to the Regimental Sergeant Major’s office to have a one-way conversation about talking on parade!

Although recalling that moment still makes me smile, another does not.  Several months later after a long exercise overseas, The Head did not take the gilt-edged opportunity that had been presented to him to say “Well done” to those who had just been away from home and working exceptionally hard for over a month solid.  He just told us over the radio net to “go back to your business”.  This time there was no stage whisper but rather an angry and frankly insubordinate response which attracted laughter and applause.  The equivalent of an angry media post receiving several hundred likes.  As a team, we were now only working to satisfy our individual motivations and pride, we were not in a place where we would have willingly gone the extra mile.

Man giving lecture in computer classThe Head taught me a valuable lesson and one that I tried to apply from that point on in my career.  Be visible and more than that, be connected.  I have always tried to incorporate “wandering about” into my leadership style.  Wandering about is not programmed visits to sites and offices where your team will have prepared presentations for you and be ready to pass their messages, report against KPI’s, etc; it is just wandering about, talking about football, weather, weekend plans, anything that is authentically engaging and it is there that you will really be able to gauge the health of your organisation.  You will hear alternative points of view, you will hear opinion that has not been shaped (intentionally or unintentionally) by your most recent comment, you will discover whether or not your intent and master message has really been heard, you will discover the fears and concerns that do not routinely get to your office and most of all you will enjoy some human interaction and almost certainly have a right laugh.  You will return to your office with a smile on your face and feeling more grounded.

I believe that this connection is becoming even more important as our diaries get filled with more and more process, more and more remote working and seemingly less time. Even though I tried hard to be a good wanderer, I still wish that I had wandered about more because every time that I did, it paid me back in spades.

So this week, I dare you to get up and go walkabout with no agenda in mind and see what you learn.  If small talk doesn’t come naturally to you, just say “Good morning, how’s it all going?” and then sit down, smile and listen and see where it takes you.

After all, iTS Leadership!

Author: Tim Sandiford

I learned about leading from: That Train Journey!

train driver 2Something happened to me last week that, to my recollection, has never happened in my life before!  I was on an early morning train in to London and we were on the last couple miles of the journey, when the train came to a halt away from any station and the driver made the following announcement: “excuse me ladies and gentlemen, it appears we have been directed the wrong way and have been heading up the wrong track!  I am going to have to come through the train and get to the other end so that I can drive it back a couple of junctions and then head back on the right track.  Sorry for any inconvenience.”

The reaction in the train was very varied and quite fascinating to watch.  Some smiled and happily got on listening to their music, reading their paper or book, or watching their downloads on various sizes of digital screens.  Others sighed and tutted, looked at their watches several times, moaned to their mates and strangers, got redder in the face and clearly started stressing about something which was totally out of their control.

The next thing that happened was the drivers’ journey from one end of the train to the other.  Not usually a difficult path to tread, but this morning the usual 12 carriage train had been reduced to just 4 carriages.  As such, the train was packed.  Everywhere.  There really wasn’t a pathway to walk through, so everyone had to squeeze and jostle and cuddle up to strangers to allow the driver to get to the other end.  Of course, once he had driven the train backwards a couple of junctions, he then had to retrace his steps through the crowds, and although the mistake was not his fault, this did feel somewhat of a very public humiliation!

wrong wayAnyway, all this got me thinking…..how often, as leaders, does this happen to us?  I don’t know of one plan that has gone exactly the way it was written or intended, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan!  How often have we “been directed down the wrong track”?  …and when that happens, how quickly have we “stopped the train”, “announced the mistake” to others on our journey, and then walked through the team to explain what has happened and then “go back a few junctions” and start again?  As a leader I’m not too sure that I have always taken this course of action to be honest.  I have been more likely to try to save face and find the reason why the “track” I was now on was the right one and then tried to make that work.  Looking back, I can see that the better, perhaps more personally challenging option, may have been to retrace steps and “start again”.  I can see today, with hindsight, that such authenticity and humility could actually have been a strength and more likely to gel the team together.  Mistakes happen, they are often our best form of learning, but we have to be honest with the current situation and open to discuss and extract the learning, free from blame and recrimination.

So, my lessons….

  • Be clear on the path you’re meant to be on, to know quickly when you’ve been “directed down the wrong track”
  • Be calm and compassionate when telling others that a short retrace of steps is required
  • Lead from the front AND the back
  • Get back on the right track, together, as soon as you can

….after all, iTS Leadership!

~Author: Antony Tinker