Monday, June 11, 2012

Leadership; lead and/or follow but always leading

Every year I lead a volunteer team that acts as mission control at a competition for the Olympic sport of equestrian three-day eventing (think of triathlon with three different disciplines (dressage, cross county and show jumping) over three days).  The cross country phase, as the name implies, involves the horse/rider combination traveling at a speed of about 500 meters per minute and jumping over obstacles such as (large) fallen trees.  When accidents happen, and they do, the injuries can be significant and require fast, immediate and coordinated response from over 100 volunteers.

These volunteers are a mixed bag: young and old, horsey or not horsey, groupies or just friends of the organization, and, in life, some are leaders and some are followers.  All of them share one thing in common, and that is the desire to to willingly place themselves in a situation well outside their normal frame of reference of authority and decision-making - where their immediate actions can have long-term implications from a horse or rider injury perspective.

My job, sitting in tent listening to/directing on five different radio channels, is to give these volunteers the confidence in the system and belief in themselves to make the right decision when something dramatic, potentially life threatening, happens in the middle of the woods.

So why do these people willing place their trust in the leadership that is effectively a random voice on the end of the radio?  I think it is four things:
  • They are empowered (I have made it clear that I will support their decision without question as they are the ones on the ground dealing with the facts)
  • They know that they are not alone (I have taken the time to ensure that they have been given a broad understanding of the entire safety plan (commander's intent if you like))
  • They are made to feel valuable (recognized, often in small ways (by the riders, on the PA, in the programme, beer and pizza at the end of day, by the international officials, etc.), for their contribution)
  • The know that if they need assets their request will be met with response that has a sense of control, urgency and decisiveness (when I do have to deploy doctors, vets and heavy equipment everyone knows what they have to do and how they going to do it)
Not rocket science I suppose.  But good leaders must know when to lead and when to support.  To do neither, or over do just one, means that your people will neither have the confidence to step up when you need them nor the belief that you will support their actions when they do.

No comments:

Post a Comment