40 Leadership Lessons from the Freedom Trail – #11

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!

The bandstand in Halifax Nova Scotia#11 – Leaders need to be constant, consistent and transparent

Today we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, our final port of call. It is a bustling city and walking its streets was fun. The park was delightful and, for once, I had no critical comment of our guide.

During out tour, we visited Fairview Cemetery, another resting place for victims of The Titanic disaster. As I reflected on the event, my mind drifted to thinking about forces of nature.

The day before, in St John’s, we had witnessed the incredible sight of the Reversing Falls. I had never seen the like of it before. Early in the morning, the river was running normally into the Bay of Fundy, as you might expect a river to flow. Some hours later, the irresistible tidal effect gave the Reversing Falls its name.

On the way back to the city centre, I ruminated on forces of nature. The Reversing Falls and the sinking of The Titanic represent two great examples. Except in one case, the force of nature changed things irrevocably. The Reversing Falls happens twice a day, daily without fail. The Titanic sank in just over two and half hours, with great loss of life.

I drew a parallel between those life events and leaders who also see themselves as a force of nature. There are some distinct differences, not least the frailties that all human beings share. I’ve known leaders who regarded themselves as a force of nature. In their wake, somewhat like The Titanic, they left a wake of disaster, despair and despondency.

Such leaders make for difficult relationships. They are prone to moods and tantrums. They are hard to gauge and encounters can be volatile. Are they conducive to great team working? Not in my experience! Each day you are left wondering what you will encounter next. Will it be the warm, balmy breeze of Bali or the hurricane-lashed storms of the Caribbean islands?

It is hard to function well under that form of leadership. I battled every Monday morning for months in a supervision session with a former Director of Education. She was tempestuous, ill-mannered and abrupt. She led by her way or the highway. I didn’t like either option. So we battled. However, it took a toll on me mentally and emotionally.

So what is the alternative? For me, it is to do with being constant, consistent and transparent. It is about building strong relationships now and for the future that nurtures trust. If you do these things, then staff will know who you are, what you stand for and how you behave. And they will be able to deal with that. Volatility, ambiguity, and uncertainty are the icebergs of relationships and one fatal mistake will lead to disaster!

What do you think? What has been your personal experience? Do you have another alternative to offer?

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