Lessons in Leadership
Being appointed to lead an organisation brings with it a host of feelings – ranging from excitement, to sheer terror!
I recall one appointment many years ago and during the first few days thinking to myself “Have they got the right person here? – just what can I do?!” Several weeks into the new role, as I was considering the future of the organisation, a rather unusual image of conflict and war kept coming into my mind. I scoured the internet for as close an image to what I had in my mind’s eye and eventually settled on this picture “The Periscope in the Trenches”.
I have reflected upon this image on many occasions and time and time again it has taught me so many insightful lessons. There will be yet more said on the start and end of the Great War. Conflict is a daily occurrence in the world, whether it be Israel, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine or elsewhere – it is inescapable.
This image however of conflict and its application in the leadership world is a powerful one – let me explain.
What do these simple and yet powerful tools actually do? “A periscope is an instrument for observation over, around or through an object, obstacle or condition that prevents direct line-of-sight observation from an observer’s current position. In its simplest form, it consists of an outer case with mirrors at each end set parallel to each other at a 45-degree angle. This form of periscope, with the addition of two simple lenses, served for observation purposes in the trenches during World War 1″ (Wikipedia). From a position of safety, in this image, the periscope allows the soldier to see things at a different height level or in other words raises the vision of the soldier to view the atrocities of the battlefield above him. Over the years, I’ve discovered many tools to use as periscopes, to lift, inspire and raise the vision of others. Invitation #1, consider, or discuss with colleagues, what is the instrument or tool that will raise your organisation’s vision?
Check in Often
In order to assure his own and his company’s safety, the soldier had to regularly observe through his periscope the conditions that were prevailing above on no man’s land. In essence, frequently checking in on the activities on the battlefield enabled him to call for the correct actions to pursue. And so, it is as we establish the vision for any organisation, we must frequently check in on the condition of our people, their skills, abilities and needs, establishing changes in tactics and employing the right tools to ensure success. Invitation #2, when did you last check in on your people’s skills and abilities – are your key talent in the correct role?
I’ve often thought about the courage of these men who fought so valiantly, who gave their today’s that we could have our tomorrows. There is at least one moment of truth in everyone’s life; an instance, a tipping point in time where strength of character should be shown, or a stand against the odds is required. For thousands of young men, that moment over 100 years ago, began with the sound of a whistle and the command to go over the top. We need to be prepared to step up on to the firing line or step forward. Courage comes in different forms, physical and moral. Where physical courage often prompts others to follow and take action, moral courage can be very isolating. When a person stands on principle, speaks truth to power or tells peers what they are doing is wrong, others may sometimes fall away. Moral courage frequently puts people in a lonely place; however, to increase our vision, strength of character is often required by anyone to display moral courage in all of their actions. Invitation #3 – consider the courageous decisions you have made recently, have you faced up to doing the right thing?
Keep it Simple
During the 2012 Olympics in London, two of my children and I visited the Science Museum on Exhibition Road in London. Whilst there, I was able to see close up, a periscope similar to the one on the image displayed here. As I looked at the construction of the periscope, it was a fairly crude and rudimentary instrument, much larger than I thought, made from wood, with mirrors used at the correct angles to provide a simple and yet extremely effective tool. I’ll repeat that phrase again, “Simple and yet extremely effective tool”. In order to increase our vision, don’t over complicate processes and procedures – keep it simple…..All of the time! Invitation #4 – What processes and practices currently in place, need to be simplified?
Two soldiers are shown in this image and I’d like to think that they took it in turn to view the battlefield above them, and then discuss each other’s perspectives on the course of action to pursue. Likewise, it is with us in the organisations we serve as we consider how to increase our vision. Trying to increase vision in isolation is difficult and challenging – sharing insights, observing conditions, getting feedback from trusted colleagues is critical to success. Invitation #5 ask yourself what more can I do, to ensure that other leaders understand my perspectives?
These are only some of the lessons I’ve learned about increasing vision from this WW1 image.
What are yours?