On the 31st August 2013, Lesley, my wife and soul-mate, retired after 35 years teaching in secondary schools. Two days later, as planned, we set off for a magical celebratory holiday, taking in New York, California and Oregon. Our trip became known as the ‘Freedom Trail’.
While on the Freedom Trail, I journalled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson. Here’s another!
During our brief visit to Boston, Les and I took the city to our hearts. It is an amazing mix of old and new, traditional and modern, chic and shabby. It also has some very strong underpinning flavours.
We found this out when we decided, part way through the morning, to take a guided tram tour. Our driver, Theodore, greeted my wife and I and a few other tourists warmly. He then drove off, regaling us with tales of the history of the city.
Within a few minutes of starting our tour, he launched into a massive swipe at the British and their involvement in the history of the city. His tales were historic and heartfelt. He seemed to feel their impact personally and his monologue felt, for a few minutes, like a bit of a rant.
Sitting mid-way up the tram, we looked on politely; smiling and laughing along with the rest of the group. The stories were clearly embellished for impact and for extracting the greatest possible amount of humour. Our understanding of the history of Boston garnered from prior research and reading helped us with this.
What made us smile most was the fact that he had, at least, two Brits sitting on his tram and he was blithely unaware of that fact. Here he was, leading a group on a tour of one of the USA’s best-loved cities, and he hadn’t even checked out his audience. In fact, he didn’t do that until about twenty minutes had passed.
You could imagine his surprise when he found out that we were English! The look of shock on his face told a thousand tales and he tried to recover quickly with humour. What he didn’t do was apologise for his rant. However, we felt no animosity as we have always believed people are entitled to their opinions and beliefs. We don’t, however, always have to agree with one another.
We eventually left the tour with a friendly farewell and set off to see what the people at the Boston Tea Party had to share. On our way there, we wondered about how an early introduction at the start of the tour would change the dynamic of the presentation we would receive. Interestingly, the Tea Party staff were way more professional in their approach and took our Englishness in their stride and even incorporated it into their presentation.
No matter, we had a wonderful, at times hilarious time in Boston and it is a city which we will return to one day.
Leaders don’t make assumptions; know their customers well; communicate effectively without alienating anyone; recover their mistakes; apologise unreservedly for their errors and use warmth and openness to rebuild relationships and trust.