Management guru Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”
In the middle of a week full of simple yet sublime pleasures, I also had the opportunity to experience unexpected leadership lessons with long-time colleagues and friends.
This story begins with The National Trust of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which has been a model for preservation and conservation organizations since its founding in 1895. While many National Trusts exist around the world, all are modeled in one way or the other on this original National Trust. I’ve worked with U.K. Trust staff members over the years and have come to count several as dear friends. The Trust’s work to connect people with places and the willingness to give back out of its century of experience to the international preservation and conservation communities have long been an inspiration.
I spent time last week interacting with the National Trust at several levels. The long-time connections were also how we found ourselves in Cambridge last Monday, visiting with Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of Emmanuel College and the former Director-General (or CEO) of The National Trust. Fiona, an extraordinary leader, had invited us to join her at High Table, an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss.
It isn’t easy getting from the Cotswolds to Cambridge without a car, but a half-day ride on two trains brought us to Emmanuel on Monday afternoon, where we toured the college’s courts, gardens, and beautiful Christopher Wren chapel. As evening arrived, we all gathered for High Table, a tradition of colleges at Oxford, Cambridge, and beyond. And it was there that I saw leadership lesson #1 in action:
You have the power as a leader to make everyone feel welcome and secure, no matter how lofty your position or prestigious the event.
Through the years I’ve seen how Fiona nurtures relationships, speaking to everyone in ways to support and uplift others while never forgetting a name. Add in an easy-going, casual, and unaffected manner and even something as potentially intimidating as a formal dinner with professors in their academic gowns at one of the constituent colleges of Cambridge University becomes a delightful evening of good food, wonderful drink, and stimulating conversation with some very smart people. It was a night of pleasures to remember.
One of the people Fiona brought into my life is now another dear friend, Catherine Leonard. My interactions with Catherine later in the week led me to recognize leadership lesson #2:
Support and uplift people and chances are they will shine. That’s how leaders create other leaders.
I’ve worked closely with Catherine since she came on staff at the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) more than a decade ago. She now leads the Secretariat at INTO as the organization’s Secretary-General. Under Fiona’s mentorship and support as the Chair of the board, Catherine has been encouraged to blossom into a strong leader in her own right, something I’ve been fortunate to observe first-hand. When learning that we were traveling to the U.K., Catherine immediately invited us to Northington in Hampshire to spend time at her family home with her husband Ben and children Monty and Connie.
Catherine and Ben live in a historic cottage that has been in Catherine’s family for 50 years. We loved hearing the story of how both Catherine and Connie were born in the house. (Yes, the English are so much more civilized risk takers!) Originally built in the 1860s as a cottage for the man who ran the gas plant for Lord Ashburton’s Grange estate, it was bought — and later expanded in a manner sympathetic to its historic design — by Catherine’s parents. This delightful cottage sitting in the middle of a bucolic English countryside became our Hampshire home for the middle part of the week.
Over three days we mixed business and pleasure: a first-rate performance (with dinner at intermission) of The Marriage of Figaro in their backyard at The Grange Festival; sharing experiences and aspirations with approximately 100 members of the National Trust staff at Heelis, their headquarters in Swindon; travels to the National Trust World Heritage Site Avebury; dinner at the local Hampshire pub The Woolpack Inn; prepping for a meeting with senior staff at Historic England concerning work on Main Streets — known in the U.K. as High Streets; providing Connie with fun facts about Wisconsin and Maine to flesh out a school project on the two states. Through it all, Catherine’s strengths as a leader shown through.
One of my many conversations with Catherine around our mutual work and interests centered on the values she crafted for herself over the past couple of years. At the recent International Conference of National Trusts in Bermuda, I heard Catherine use the phrase, “Not just consuming, but contributing.” This week I asked her about it. She told me it came from her crafting of values and was a way forward she was seeking to internalize in work and life. And there was leadership lesson #3:
Leaders don’t just consume, they contribute.
The value resonated for me, as I appreciate experiences to simply buying and consuming more and more things. But Catherine’s take adds the importance of contributing. We all take up space on this earth, and she was reminding me that what we do with our time and talent will be weighed against what we take away as consumers of limited resources.
Over the past decade, Catherine has been busy contributing to the work of creating, building, and strengthening National Trusts — and a new set of heritage conservation leaders — all around the world. Catherine’s contributions were, of course, allowed to flourish more abundantly because of nourishment and support received from mentors and colleagues such as Fiona. Throughout the week, both friends showed me time and again how their work, as leaders, creates more leaders.
Friends nurture our soul in different ways. Sometimes we can help them grow by showing our support and providing the space they need to flourish as leaders. And we also have special people we know and cherish who teach us by the way that they live their values, if we are open to seeing and learning.
Have a great week.
More to come…
Image: “Gas Cottage” on Lord Ashburton’s estate in Northington, where three generations of the Leonard family have called home. Photo by DJB.