40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #9

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!

Maine Lighthouse#9 – Leaders show vulnerability and don’t dominate and bully

Our next port of call on our Canadian cruise was Portland, Maine. Rather than sight-seeing around Portland, we opted to take a coach tour, which ended up at the delightful little town of Kennebunkport.

Sitting behind us on the coach were two Latin American ladies, one middle-aged and the other elderly. I guessed they were mother and daughter. Throughout the tour, the younger woman spoke quietly to the older lady. While a little distracting, I presumed that she was interpreting for her mother.

Our coach was almost full and Peter, our guide, maintained a running commentary throughout our journey to Kennebunkport. He was very knowledgeable and gave a great account of the area’s history, architecture, and famous residents. In particular, he had a number of stories to tell about one resident, the former President, George W Bush, Senior. We passed his summer residence perched on a little promontory into the sea.

When we arrived at the town and parked up, our guide launched into something of a rant. He complained bitterly about people talking while he was commentating, amongst other things, and demanded that people refrain from this on the rest of trip. With this, he looked pointedly in our direction and left the coach, informing everyone to be back in an hour.

His outburst took the whole coach by surprise and, looking round, the lady sitting behind us looked a little stunned, rightly guessing that his comments were largely directed at her. We struck up a conversation and she explained that she was interpreting for her mother, who spoke no English.  Leaving the coach, she immediately set off in pursuit of our guide.

After a very pleasant stroll around the town, we returned to the coach by the due time. We gathered from the demeanour of our guide that our fellow traveller had spoken to him and explained her situation. He seemed very sheepish and was definitely a lot less belligerent for the remainder of our tour.

Reflecting on our eventful day, I thought Peter made two fundamental mistakes. First, he admonished a group of people, when he clearly had an issue with one particular individual. Second, in venting his spleen, he demonstrated a range of prejudices that ought not to have been aired publicly.

[Tweet “When you stop caring what people think, you lose your capacity for connection. When you’re defined by it you lose our capacity for vulnerability. – Brene Brown”]

In my opinion, a better way to handle this situation would have been to approach the lady directly and enquire about her reason for talking. Leaders need to be able to demonstrate vulnerability, not dominate and bully to meet their needs. They also don’t make assumptions. Finally, they understand the nature of cause and effect before taking precipitate action.

What do you think?

Leaders use humour to diffuse situations though this is much less effective when trust has been destroyed.


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