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 journaled every day and ended each entry with a leadership moment/lesson. Here’s another!
St John’s, Newfoundland is an interesting city. Filled with many associations to the sea, including the last resting place for many Titanic victims, it has a fascinating history, a vibrant arts and crafts culture and a mix of architecture of all shapes and sizes, some modern, some old.
Our guide, Kelly-Anne, mirrored her city. She was lively, hugely extroverted and eccentric. She playacted the whole tour, using a variety of props, mainly hats, to inform and entertain.
She demonstrated great empathy with American tourists, especially around 9/11, and sought to engage with people in whatever way she could. Her humor was infectious and the experience of emulating the mating call of a moose with a piece of string and a polystyrene cup will long live in my memory.
However, she also demonstrated her ‘school teacher’ side, as I would describe it. She was a stickler for time-keeping and regularly harangued people for being the slightest bit tardy. When sharing her stories, it felt, at times, as if we were being spoken down to, rather than engaged. On reflection, most of her interaction was of the parent-child variety, which was fascinating given we were a group of adults.
Maybe it comes with the territory? You’re responsible for a tour group, trying to balance information, entertainment, and safety. You need to get everyone back at a certain time before their ship departs. You’d like some tips. It isn’t easy.
I’ve led school parties on day trips and abroad, and, believe me, it is hugely tiring, adrenalin-consuming and nerve-wracking. You are on duty 24/7, alert to any slight disturbance to the flow, expecting the worst and praying for the best. When you arrive home in one piece, flock intact, having had a great time, you feel an immense sense of relief.
So I have some empathy for Kelly-Anne. I own those T-shirts and videos too. However, how do the experiences compare, especially when you’re dealing with adults? I know they can sometimes be worse than children when in a group and are probably more independently-minded. But is that reason enough to adopt a parent-child approach?
My reflection is this. Leaders display consistency, common sense, and integrity. They set boundaries and outline expectations. Their relationships are typically adult-adult, rather than parent-child though I’ve certainly engaged in my fair share of parent-child conversations with staff over the years. Finally, leaders usually have a strong focus on values and appropriate behavior. Their behavior plays out their underpinning values and, in the main, will also be consistent.
Kelly-Anne was probably the most entertaining guide thus far on our Freedom Trail although there was much she could to become a better one.
What do you think?
Leaders set boundaries, and outline expectations and consequences. They focus on values and demonstrate appropriate behavior that is underpinned by those values.