I remember it as if it were today. I’m standing there in my uniform at Tåme firing range in Västerbotten. It was cold and we were tired after a week in the woods. Now we were back in something that could be called civilization. The hotel was on the right, the dining room on the left and the lodgings a little diagonally straight ahead.
But we wouldn’t enjoy any of it. We would continue to be out in the field and would now finish the whole exercise with live firing on the firing range. One of my fellow officers suggested, half jokingly, half seriously, that we check into the hotel and take a sauna.
Our senior officer and teacher at the Officers’ College thought it would be a good idea to teach these young officers some wisdom, so he said, “If the soldiers sleep in tents, you as leaders sleep in tents too, never forget that.” As you can see, I have not forgotten it and it has followed me through my life as a leader.
It takes me to memories of the opposite.
I worked about 20 years ago as a project manager on an international project, and we travelled every week to the client who was abroad. Our line manager, who also worked as the project owner for the project, had arranged a good deal on a hotel where we in the project could stay. There was nothing wrong with the hotel, but it was definitely not the nicest and was located a bit out of town. It was okay, but no more.
However, it soon turned out that when our project owner visited, he was NOT staying at this hotel. He chose a prestigious hotel in the city, and he wasn’t satisfied with just any room either. This was demonstrated when he had the extremely bad taste to invite me and another project manager to his suite to discuss the projects.
Remembering the lesson on the firing range, I just couldn’t keep quiet. I was so annoyed by his example that I pointed it out to him and told him that this was a very bad way to show leadership. He just grinned and said he has a different agenda than the rest of us…
We can now read in the newspapers over the past few weeks about how leading individuals who should be behind the message of how to act to avoid spreading the coronavirus are themselves going on holiday trips and moving in ways that they themselves do not recommend others to do.
Dan Eliasson, who has been in the spotlight several times for poor leadership, went on a much-needed trip to Grand Canaria to celebrate Christmas with his family. His daughter lives there.
There are probably many of us who have had a tough time of it this year and who feel the need to be able to celebrate Christmas with loved ones we may not have been able to spend time with for a long time. But many choose to listen to the recommendations. Students stay in their halls of residence throughout Christmas and New Year to avoid travelling home and putting themselves and their families at risk. Elderly people are not visited by their children and celebrate in solitude. Many celebrate in solitude to follow the advice and guidelines they have been given.
Acting as a leader in these times, with the responsibility and power to issue restrictions, also means that you have to be extra careful to ensure that you comply with them yourself. You also have to be extra careful about it.
This also applies to you in your role as a leader, at work or at home as a parent. You have to lead by example. It is said that children do not do as they are told, but do as they do. This also applies to employees in an organisation.
And it applies to everything, big and small: from the number of screens on our desks, how we travel when we’re on business, how we drive our company cars, where we shop, to how we behave towards each other and our customers. It applies in everything.
So don’t forget: if your employees sleep in tents – you sleep in tents too!