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Leadership You Don’t See

Originally published on LinkedIn on July 10, 2020

One evening my new CEO messaged me, asking if I could arrange a teleprompter for his filming the next day. Luckily, I had one, though I barely knew how to put it together. I’d used it only once, long ago, and it was now in storage. Early next morning I dusted it off and, after much struggle working out how it assembled, went to connect it to the tripod.

As tripods go, this one was funny. It wouldn't stand up. I ended up running across town to the nearest camera shop to buy a replacement. Rushing back to the office, the fun continued as the connecting iPad stubbornly refused to charge. After several changes of cable, it finally sputtered into life, eventually rising to 12% battery by the time I had to go.

Now, all I needed was to connect to the company wifi and Airdrop the speech. Simple. Except today, of course, the tech furies declined to cooperate. With just a few minutes till shooting time, I resorted to re-typing the entire speech from scratch direct to the app.

I wrestled the whole, heavy apparatus across the floor, heaved it into the lift and went up to the CEO’s suite. Sweating, out of breath yet hoping to project a veneer of calm, I began the final set up. The struggles continued. In the course of moving, the ipad had come loose and, try as hard as I might, just wouldn’t pop back in.

The CEO waited at his desk. After a long few minutes, he realised something was up. I felt rumbled. This was just our third meeting. Probably enough, I thought, for him to realise he’d need a new comms lead. Someone competent enough to at least know how to operate a simple teleprompter.

Embarrassed, I tried to jab the iPad back into place. This wasn’t fair, I comforted myself. He has no idea how hard I’ve worked all morning just to get this far. Besides, we should have an AV team to do all this! He shuffled in his seat, no doubt frustrated and impatient to get started. Then, to my surprise, he stepped across the room, rolled up his sleeves and asked, “Can I help?” The ipad clicked snuggly into place.

Ten minutes later, job done, I left his office, flush with a mix of relief and respect. I’d honestly expected him to just wait at his desk, going through papers until I’d figured it out. I hadn’t considered he might, well, volunteer to be my technician.

There’s a kind of leadership you don’t see. Offstage, when there’s no need to act. I knew walking out we had a leader with an instinct and humility to serve. In those first few weeks many colleagues would ask me quietly, “So, what’s he like?” “Well,” I responded, “let me tell you a story…”

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