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Reflections 13th June

On my mind this week.

Leadership has been a constant thread running through my thoughts this week. Not the popularised, performance-based idea beloved of business schools and consultants, but the challenging, foundational sort of Leadership that keeps us rooted in something important enough to follow. Leadership 101.

Maybe it was to do with a thought that I was at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell on officer training fifty years ago. Apart from running around wet hills carrying telegraph posts with four others in competition with other groups, what we learned about Leadership was valuable and has stayed with me. 

Firstly, you can’t lead if you can’t do the jobs you assign, to some degree, yourself. There will always be those better than you, but you have to understand what you’re asking them to do. Secondly, make sure those you ask to do the job can do it well and are suitably equipped. Lastly, put their welfare first. Don’t eat till they’ve eaten, don’t sleep until they can sleep—pretty basic stuff. It wasn’t altruism – at some point, we were going to ask them to do something that required them to trust us. I don’t think that has changed in fifty years, although it doesn’t seem to feature in the “solution” approach to Leadership as we sell “skills” but not “responsibilities”. Responsibilities are a much harder sell.

There was, though, an aspect that has changed significantly. As officers, we had access to information those we led did not, and it was down to us to package it and pass it on. Information was highly asymmetric. Today it is not. Leaders and led have access to the same information, packaged in very many different bundles through different media, making a huge difference to a leader’s relationships. Today, leaders cannot lead through privileged access to information. They can only lead through doing the 101 basics – competence, ensuring competence in others, and looking after the welfare of those they lead. Bullshit is not currency.

It also places a responsibility on us. When we have the information, we have no excuse not to be leaders ourselves to those who follow us. We have to be clear on our stance. Leadership has become small scale during the pandemic – Leadership of and by those we are close to. People who keep us rooted, understand us, equip us and look out for us. 

Leadership does many things, but it doesn’t scale. At scale, it becomes political promises and fulfils none of the 101 basics.

As we go through the next few years, it’s hard to expect Leadership from those who don’t do 101. I think Leadership is reverting to local, and we need to be prepared to play our part.

Books I like this week.

English Pastoral. James Rebanks. I enjoyed Rebanks first book, The Shepherds life; it is beautifully written, and he is a natural storyteller who weaves thought-provoking ideas into his storyline. His latest book offers more, as he covers the last fifty years of farming, how it has changed, and how it has affected him and his community. As someone whose family has been on the farm for over 500 years, it is a powerful perspective. As for farming, so for business. There is much to reflect on, as well as enjoy in this book.

The Opposable Mind. Roger Martin. I like Roger Martin’s work and read it this week as I collected my thoughts on stance – the position we adopt as we deal with what’s in front of us. He describes ways of dealing with opposites in precise, simple language that is valuable for those who find themselves, sometimes unexpectedly, leading.

David and Goliath. Malcolm Gladwell. Another one pulled down from the bookshelf for a re-read. A good reminder in a time of business goliaths, that they only win for a while.

Articles I’ve enjoyed.

How to think clearly. Psyche Magazine. An excellent short article on something that is at a premium. We are under pressure from ourselves and others to think quickly. Far too often, it doesn’t end well. Clear thinking requires time and practice.

Controlling the narrative. The Conversation. We complain a lot about the manipulation of social media, but there’s another manipulation going on. This article on the coaches and managers at Euros 2021 offers a fascinating insight that we see is not what we get.

On being a beginner. The Guardian. We are all beginners when it comes to what is happening around us right now. This article is a thoughtful provocation on how to relax into being a beginner. (and a beginners mind is essential for Leadership. Thinking otherwise is where hubris comes from)

A quote that has resonated

What makes a great decision is not that it has a great outcome. A great decision is the result of a good process, and that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of “I’m not sure”. 

Annie Duke. Thinking in Bets.

Have a great week. Do something new, small but important. Grow a little.

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