I Learned about Leading From: That Video Conference

video conferenceI worked for an absolutely charming but rather disorganised boss for 2 years in a multinational office where I was his de facto chief of staff (although that was not in my job description or job title).  He appeared one day asking me to set up a video conference with a partner organisation which was in another country and different time zone.  He also declared that two others from our team should also be present at the VTC.  This was in the days before desktop VTC and Skype were commonplace and such a meeting involved considerable preparation and some expense.

Over the next two weeks, all three of us asked him what was the purpose of the meeting, what was the agenda and what did we need to do in preparation?  We had just asked 3 very busy people at the other end to attend but we couldn’t really articulate why we needed them to be present.  The answer that we received was “It’s about time we had one to catch up” and we could get no further direction.  We explained patiently that we were in regular contact with them, that all of our obligations in both directions were being met and that at our level, there was no need for the VTC to take place.  He persisted and it was duly arranged.

blameWhen the time came, it was a deeply unsatisfactory event.  My boss was late, I had to offer apologies on his behalf and endure the open and obvious annoyance that was being directed at us by 3 senior staff members in our partner organisation.  Once he had arrived, it was clear that there was little of substance to be discussed and we had done little more than just disrupt their already full working day for limited, if any, reward.  This realisation dawned on my boss and later that afternoon he asked me to check a letter that he had written to his opposite number on the other end of the VTC in which he attempted to identify some action points and outcomes and then apologised for the limited value and the disruption stating “that he had been rather let down by his staff who had failed to adequately prepare him or themselves for this meeting.”!  That was the day that he lost us, the same staff who regularly worked late, had their days and even weekends disrupted to cover for his poor organisational skills and who endured the annoyance of others when he was late or had the wrong presentation with him.  I still liked him because he was a nice man but I was deeply hurt by the way in which he failed to take responsibility for his own actions and blamed me and the other team members.

I learned that day that leading is about accountability and loyalty.  Don’t blame others when you fail and even if they have performed poorly, coach them, don’t blame them. Loyalty is a two-way street and you will get it back in spades if you selflessly show it to your team.

I don’t remember who he was quoting, but in “Winning”, Sir Clive Woodward declared:

“When things are going well look out of the window at those who are doing it, when things are going badly, look in the mirror.”

For me, that statement summed up a very worthwhile leadership behaviour pretty well and it is one that I have used to guide me.  Do you look in the mirror when things are going badly?  I do, after all, iT’S Leadership.

Author: Tim Sandiford

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