Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like


“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

“So do all who live in such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, than the will of evil.”

I’d have to say that 2017 has in so many ways been a  bugger of a year. I’d like to say it’s getting better. Maybe that’s just around the corner. In the meantime, life has been delivering some interesting lessons, particularly around leadership.

I have the privilege of chairing a small not-for-profit board, comprised of people all with well-honed skills and good hearts. Our little enterprise has faced a torrid couple of months as one decision we made, following the best of due process, nevertheless turned sour. It provoked an external reaction that could have caused us some lasting damage. And it was happening on my watch.

As the crisis blossomed, our protagonist sent frequent and forceful proposals that made our staff feel intimidated and threatened. There was no choice but to call the behaviour, to stand up for our values and support our people. I had to decide how that intervention should be shaped and expressed, and the consequences would be on my head.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – standing up for your people.

The response to my calling-out got personally and publicly offensive. There was an array of possible reactions, many of which would feel good, lashing back in justified self-defence. The best advice was to do nothing, to suck up the offence for the good of the organisation and let it fizzle out for want of oxygen.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – taking one for the team.

There were plenty of tactical decisions to be made in managing the crisis. Many of them weighed heavily on me, but I knew I could always get wise counsel, or just a shoulder to cry on, from my board colleagues.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – getting great support from a talented team.

The matter played out briefly in the court of public opinion. The fronting of the media fell primarily to me and I was lucky to be able to call on the PR A-Team who (pro bono) wound back my indignation, aligned my messages, massaged my tone, rehearsed me and turned me loose.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – getting the benefit of first class professional advice and support.

We met in a critical board meeting, to make the important decisions going forward. Three options, each of which had support around the table. We thrashed out the alternatives, and in the end coalesced around one.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – finding consensus in a sea of troubles.

Ultimately, the episode was mostly about accepting that this hobbit had ended up with the ring. When faced with hard decisions as a leader, it always helps to ask, “Who better to deal with this than me?” Having the confidence in your skills, experience and support teams – I guess that’s what leadership really feels like.

david white


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