Once in a Lifetime
Last week I had one of the most extraordinary experiences of my training career. Through RADA in Business I was engaged to train speakers taking part in the BBC’s commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchedeale.
Thus, I found myself in Ypres working with a group of almost 40 serving military personnel, actors and descendants of people who had died in this bloodiest of battles; an incredibly diverse group of people, all of whom would be reading on live television.
This is set in the context of remembering a battle that took the lives of tens of thousands of men and the intense emotions that evokes. If you saw either of the two programmes on the BBC you will understand what a humbling and tragic event we were focussing on.
A New Subject
My posts for Trevor’s website have tended to focus on the leadership of others but given the profundity of the experience I want to talk about the role I found myself taking in this once in a lifetime event.
The Coach as Leader
I was in a position I hadn’t expected. These readers, whether they were standing beside the headstone of a relative who died in the battle giving the details of their death, or they were reading the testimony that a survivor had penned after the event, they needed not only a coach but someone who would hold their hand through the whole experience. In itself this isn’t that surprising but the sheer number of people I was working with, and the fact that for many of them it was of great personal significance caught me off-guard.
I found myself being asked questions on all sorts of details I had no idea about, involvement in, or ultimately responsibility for. But more than that, I found myself becoming a touchstone for the nerves and emotions that were flying around. I was being cast as the rock that people needed.
I could have made a choice and told them it’s not really my designated role, but that would have been easy, and lazy. Instead I assumed responsibility where I could easily have not. It was hard work and challenging but the rewards meant that I got so much more from the experience.
The Coach Coached
As the leader of a training room, you often get endowed by others with some sort of omniscient aura, particularly when you come from a world as mysterious as theatre. This time though, as I considered how to relate the experience through my blog, it led me to consider leadership in a different way. I realised I often think about leadership as about doing something for others and forget to consider what the rewards are for the leader personally. My focus is so often on the benefit for the followers that I fail to properly consider the rewards for the leader.
The reward in this context was me getting more out than I put in. I got more from the people I was working with because I gave them more. Committing fully to the experience brought unexpected benefits
What then is the lesson that I am going to suggest I take away? Well, I’m going to remember that the next time I am presented with a daunting task, no matter what demands it makes, perhaps if I engage with it a little more fully than I expect to, plan to, or perhaps even want to, I might learn more, gain more, and enjoy it more.
And musing on the word commitment, the more I think about what kind of leader I want to be, beyond anything else, I think I want to be a committed leader.
I went to support others and I think the biggest piece of learning was my own. That might just be the biggest reward of all.