One of the things I love about my work is working with my clients to solve problems. I work with leaders in Agencies and busy environments and a lot of the time when we get to speak they are overwhelmed by problems. Most of the time the perceived “problems” are resolved very quickly once a reminder of where our experience is coming from is delivered. One such coaching session recently led to a conversation about the essence of leadership and I recounted a story of when I experienced being in total clarity and flow and how the natural leader in me emerged when I needed it the most.
I hope you enjoy the story.
My friend Andy Honey and I were kicking each other under the dinner table, gesturing with our eyes toward my younger brother who had what seemed like ash on his face. Anyway after exchanging quizzical glances we got back to our dinner.
I was seventeen years old and I had a couple of friends and my cousin, all the same age, staying for dinner. Our family had only recently moved into the sixteenth century house in the English countryside and it wasn’t unusual for us to have a full house. Anyway, after dinner, while we were waiting for my Mum to dish up the pudding, my brother, who had left the table, re-appeared to announce there was a fire upstairs. Under normal circumstances, we would have thought it some kind of joke, but, given Andy and I had noticed something was up, we didn’t stop to think as we raced upstairs to investigate. I shouted at the others to get buckets of water as there was no doubt in my mind that there was a fire. When we got to the bedroom on the top floor and opened the door, the fire was such that there was no way we were going to be able to extinguish it.
The next five, ten or whatever (I really had no recollection of the time) I experienced total clarity and flow.
I literally took charge without even thinking about it, telling my brother to find the pet dog and cat and put them safely in the car. Next, I phoned 999, the emergency services, and spoke to the fire brigade. Then we had to knock up all the neighbours to get them to move their cars so the fire engines could get down the narrow lane by the village church where we lived.
Shortly after the first of seven fire engines arrived and we stood outside the house and watched, along with the rest of the village, the firemen tackle the blazing fire which was now raging through the roof and the top floor of the house.
I had always been regarded in the family as the laid back one, the care free one. However, when it came to it, I knew, without a single doubt or hesitation, that I had to take charge. There was no ego or thought involved. I just got on with the job at hand and calmly but very effectively got what needed to be done done. I had all the resources required available to me just when I needed them. It was totally clear to me what had to be done and in what order. I delegated and everyone was happy to execute my instructions. I didn’t look to my mother, who was the only adult present and a very capable, strong woman. I had total clarity when it was required the most.
It came to me years later when thinking about the essence and source of leadership that this was a perfect example of it in action. Up until then apart from on the football field, where I had been captain of the school team, I would not have been described by anyone as leadership material.
At the time of the fire, I had no concept of anything else going on. I was totally focused and in a funny way totally calm. Time didn’t exist. It was like the events were unfolding in slow motion in that I seemed to have all the time I needed to see clearly what needed to be done next. There was no thought involved. I just knew. I realise now I was in what sports people call the zone or business people might call in flow.
It seems clear to me now that we all have access to the same essence of leadership. Because who we really are is that same essence of where the quality of leadership comes from.