Leadership presence: Gordon Brown

Funny bit of serendipity happened this morning.  Was struggling towards Kings Cross with my 3 yr old daughter – we were supposed to be on a bus to nursery but there were no buses, bad traffic, etc etc – she was being carried as she had walked half the way and then given up. This was not really the way I wanted to start the week. Then suddenly there were blue flashing lights everywhere and police motorcycles blocking the junction ahead of us.  We looked along the road and saw a cavalcade of police motorcyles and large black 4×4 rushing up towards us. Must be someone very important I said to s – maybe the Queen.  Well, not the Queen, as it turned out, but Gordon Brown, who I later found had been at Kings Cross giving his digital futures speech. All very exciting and now s knows a bit about the Prime Minister, who she thinks is a carpenter and wonders why his car doesn’t have blue lights.

It got me thinking, though, about leadership and engagement with “real” people.  The flurry and nervous tension that surrounded the cavalcade as it flashed through Kings Cross remained even after the PM had rushed by. No-one in the cars looked very happy – all pretty stressed – maybe because his speech had had mixed responses – and I thought how strange it must be to travel in that kind of isolation and with the threat of something bad happening. I would imagine that you would feel on edge all the time. I felt edgy for just watching him as he passed. It may sound naive but if the PM had picked up the number 91 bus to Kings Cross would he have been any less safe or more at risk than travelling at high speed through rush hour traffic? And how does he get to experience what it is really like to live in Britain today if all he sees is the blur of “his” country, through the tinted windows of his Range Rover? Or through orchestrated handshaking at public events.  It must be a really weird existence and living in that kind of organised distance would surely alter your perceptions. Reading through the twitter feeds about the speech (#bbdf) there were a number of criticisms that Brown is out of touch and doesn’t understand the real challenges. Should we be so surprised? Is there any other way?

I think a lot about presence in my role and worry that I am not around enough. I have so many external events to go to that sometimes I fear the team think I am just a figment of their imagination. Then you get into the vicious circle of being in back-to-back meetings when you are in the office. And the only time you can get work done is by being away from the office.   Not to sound egotistical and think I am anything like Gordon Brown 😉 but I would hate to think that all my team see of me is the equivalent to me skimming past in an armoured 4×4 surrounded by minders rushing from one “very important” meeting to another.  However, I desperately need time to think and reflect and often the office environment is not conducive to that, yet I also need to meet with people so I understand the real concerns they have.

Leadership is a constant balancing or juggling act and I am prone to working to the agenda’s of others and then sacrificing the time for myself to work and think.  However, perhaps we could all do more to engage informally with the people we work with, experiencing what they experience and making the time to listen. I think I certainly should and could do this more.  So, I’ll be taking the bus and looking forward to seeing Gordon Brown on there with me and my 3 yr old.  And perhaps s is not so wrong when she describes the PM has a carpenter – isn’t his role trying to build a different kind of future for us? Is there a “carpenter” element to all leadership?

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