My Mentors -
'they did matter'
Life is tough, and being a Leader can be among the most demanding jobs. The key to maintaining a Leadership role over the long haul is having a mentor, someone you respect, someone you know, whom you regard as a Leader. I was lucky, although I started my journey to Leadership in my teens - I was fortunate to have the advice, guidance, encouragement, and occasional rebuke from several Leaders / Mentors.
Here are four of my mentors who made a real difference to my thinking and doing as a Leader.
David is a unique character combining versatility and integrity. He could remove an engine from a Land Rover, pilot a plane from his landing strip, slaughter, cook and serve a wild beast for dinner and play a mean game of tennis - all before bedtime! I envied his skills and admired his enduring attitude towards life’s challenges.
A white man born in Zambia, David flourished in Africa, understanding the psyche and thinking of Africans and their Continent. His openness and honesty impressed me; David had the highest integrity of anybody I’ve ever met. He was a well-respected chairman of Zambian businesses.
David taught me that a Leader should focus on what works well rather than surrounding problems - because it does matter.
Jim’s turnaround of the UK Division was nothing short of miraculous. First, he hand-picked a strong management team and then drove the employees and management to exceed all expectations through relentless hard work and persistence. He transformed the Division from being a basket-case of inefficiency, poor quality, low morale, used as an over-manned cost centre - into one of the most profitable and productive Divisions within the whole Global Group. He gave people opportunities to shine, and I was very fortunate to be by his side as we climbed that rugged mountain together.
Jim taught me how to Lead with my head held high whilst keeping my powder dry! He showed me
how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Working with Jim - anything was possible.
Willie was an early exponent of 'management by walking about. He was the epitome of a Grand Old Gentleman, wearing a fresh red carnation in the lapel of his pin-striped suit, and greeting and chatting to everyone, somehow knowing each person's name. Willie's apprentices were well-trained in all departments as part of their career development. He sent us on the 'Outward Bound' course to learn how to survive in the great outdoors during the winter and gave us paid time off for further education study. Willie was a Director of two large UK Banks, The Scottish Tourism Board and President of The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. He established 'The Thyne Scholarship', enabling young men and women to travel to a country of their choice to study, broaden their outlook and research their particular vocation.
Willie taught me that there's more to being a Leader than just a fancy title. Leaders make time for others and help them to be successful.
Willie would have been a success in any century.
I met Alan by accident one Sunday morning when
I was on holiday and out for a stroll. He offered me a job there and then, so we moved house 300 kilometres on a handshake from a stranger.
I had known Alan for just 30 minutes. What happened next transformed my life. Alan led by example, was even-handed and supported the people who worked for him.
This wealthy, blonde bombshell of a man thought nothing of removing his jacket and getting stuck in to help others, whether it was driving a truck, sweeping the floors, making the coffee or just being the first to arrive and last to leave each day. Alan was a first a helper and second a CEO - he made it his life's work to help employees improve and showed other Leaders how to take responsibility for people.
Alan taught me self-belief and gave me my first chance in management. He taught me how powerful having a 'common touch' is. Everyone looked up to Alan - but he never looked down on them.