My passion for learning and development started 30 years ago, at the top of a mountain in Wales.
I was newly into my first management role with Unigate Dairies based at their HQ in Aldershot. Three weeks in I was dispatched with 16 other members of the senior management team onto an Outward-Bound management development programme based for one week in the mountains of North Wales.
Although we were not aware of it until two days into the programme, one key objective was to strengthen collaboration, planning and decision making. The managing director felt the management team had come to rely on him too much to make all the key decisions. Many leaders I have since met would have been flattered by this status. But this this leader was wise, and he saw this dependency as weakness in his leadership which could potentially compromise company performance. So instead he took his team to the mountains to work on it together.
On the night we arrived, just after dinner and drinks at around 10pm as we were getting ready to retire to bed, he announced that we were going out with the course leaders on an observation exercise. It was a freezing cold wet night, so the news did not go down well, but we layered up and off we piled into a convoy of land rovers.
We eventually arrived at a hotel by a lake at about 11pm. We were split into pairs and each given details of our role. I was in a pair who was directed to an observation point on the side of the lake. Others were led to small boats to take out onto the lake.
No further instructions were given, so the two of sat and waited, and waited.
Being new to the company I didn’t know my team mate very well. However, over the ensuing four hours as we froze together by the lake we got to know each other rather well. Our mood shifted from feeling tired and cold but curiously and mildly amused to abject anger, frustration, questioning everything and everyone in utter disbelief that this could have in any way been planned. “Hadn’t we driven a long way and given up a Sunday, half of our weekend for heaven’s sake just to come here, how could they do this to us!!?”
I was also scared of the dark and creepy crawlies and I hated being cold. I didn’t at all like the uncertainty of not knowing whether to stay put, look for the others or give in to the desire to abandon ship and head for the hotel lounge. “Did we miss something? An instruction perhaps”? I can’t remember the group debrief when we regrouped at the hotel at about 3am in the morning. I was too busy spitting feathers and planning how to throw the MD into the lake, particularly when we were told he had been inside the hotel all the time!
The following morning, we had to leave by 7am to go on our next expedition, an orienteering exercise. Exhausted from the previous night’s drama we headed off in the land rovers which dropped us all off in the middle of another nowhere at about 8.30am. We were handed an ordnance survey map with cryptic instructions and told to be at our destination by 4pm latest. Otherwise the land rovers would leave without us. We were again split into pairs. This time I was paired with the MD. A terrific opportunity for revenge I thought!
Fear of heights and being the furthest thing removed from sure-footed made the prospect of hiking up and down mountains with my MD a very scary one. I was convinced he would see I wasn’t good enough to be on his team. Surely I would be found out and fired when I got home.
But there I was, in the middle of nowhere with the managing director of my new company and I was one of only two female senior managers on the programme. I would do everything I could to hide the ‘real me’!
We walked for miles and hours, up and down hills and mountains, occasionally stopping to taking in the beautiful scenery and exchange a life or career event. But mainly I was gasping for breath, crawling on my bottom and wiping off sheep poo pats whilst I tried to save face and keep a lid on my very high emotions.
Eventually, dusk loomed. I vividly remember standing at the top of our last mountain. I looked down towards the road to see if I could spot the Land Rover. There it was, waiting. The sheep looked like dandruff at the foot of the mountain they were so small.We only had about 15 minutes to get down before the Land Rover would leave without us. If it did, we would have to find our own way back to the lodge which was several miles away. I couldn’t bear the thought. This time my fear was on my side!
We ran, stumbled, slipped, rolled, got up, fell over again, gasping and laughing all at the same time all the way down, holding on to each other and any bush or tree we could find to stable us. We made it with seconds to spare. It was utterly exhilarating and one of the most memorable moments of my career, indeed life. In the Land Rover my MD turned to me “well done, you excelled, I couldn’t have done it without you”. I almost cried with pride. I’ve been hooked on learning ever since.
The following day my MD was ‘kidnapped’ by a competitor company. He didn’t return to the programme and so for the rest of the week we as a team grew stronger together, with all the high and lows that comes from sleep deprivation, excess alcohol and a complete absence of comfort zone. It was a defining moment in my career which ultimately led to me leading major change and modernisation programmes across the organisation, contributing significantly to the successful performance of the company.
This is why developing your leadership skills is a vitally important part of your business growth strategy, whether you are a start-up business, SME company or large organisation. If this is something you are interested in I can help you. I can design and organise a bespoke development programmes for you/your team to unlock the potential in your company/business.