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The Art of Great Leadership

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Case Studies
In a previous blog I mentioned that I was reading a book called 'The Art of Resilience' by a chap, no, a new-found 'inspirational hero' of mine called Ross Edgley. The book follows Ross's journey, both physically and mentally, while he attempts to swim the entire distance around Great Britain (spoiler: he smashes it).

There are so many things I could wax lyrical about Ross and his tenacity, strength, resilience and mindset but I wanted to share one part of the book with you as I felt it was so relatable to myself and (hopefully) my colleagues right now.

The chapter is titled 'You're Stronger When You're Smiling'.

Yes, this could be some 'wishy washy' composition of 'positivity quotes' and empty words about being grateful for what you have and about thinking optimistically. These sorts of literary extracts have their place and I'm not knocking them at all, however, what I am about to elaborate on holds a lot more provenance in my opinion.

A short backstory of what Ross (the author of the aforementioned book endured):

  • 1780 miles swimming in the sea around the whole of Great Britain (the equivalent of swimming the Channel 85 times or 57,679 lengths of an Olympic-sized swimming pool)
  • 157 days at sea, swimming an average of 6 hours on, 6 hours off round the clock each and every day
  • 0 sick days
  • 2.3 million front crawl strokes taken
  • Over 100 jelly fish stings
  • 5 rolls of gaffer tape to fix broken skin
  • 3kg of Vaseline used for chafing wounds

Ross has a very colloquial and relatable way of writing but he does substantiate his experiences with a number of historical references, studies and scientific findings. Towards the end of the book, there was a particular story that really resonated with me and I wanted to share it with you. Ross was talking about how important coping strategies are in the face of adversity:

Ross says, 'The final example of 'the science of a smile' comes from one of the greatest explorers the world has ever known, Sir Ernest Shackleton.'

Now, I don't know about you, but I have never heard of him, but it's a name I won't forget due to the following...

Shackleton was one of the world's toughest and most resilient adventurers. He had a huge wealth of Antarctic expeditions under his belt but it was Shackleton's 1914 journey that cemented his place in history, when he set sail on his ship, the HMS Endurance, to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. The voyage began with superfluous food stocks consisting of ample biscuits, meat, whiskey and all of the luxuries of the era. In a bad turn of fate, the ship became trapped in ice in early 1915 and the crew was forced to abandon it, along with all of the fine food and supplies they had set sail with. They found safety on a floating iceberg and Shackleton stood and watched not only his ship, but, more importantly, the morale of his men, sink into the abyss.

What happened next is what defines Shackleton as a 'great man'. He immediately began caring for his crew's basic needs which are physiological and safety - basically hunger and staving off certain death (you can skip this bit if you like but for those wondering what I'm talking about: as humans, we have a basic hierarchy of needs and if the primary ones aren't met, then there is little point in trying to satisfy or fulfill the ones higher up the scale - this is known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and more info can be found here) and he did this by hunting wildlife to feed him and his men.

Once his mens' physiological and safety needs were (partially) met, he then focused on sustaining morale by addressing their social needs. He did this by creating a unified team - for example, he ignored the predominant class system of the time and had scientists and university professors scrubbing floors alongside deckhands. While Shackleton was called 'Boss' by his men, he did not differentiate his crew by having separate quarters and, in an attempt to help his crew get over the trauma of abandoning the ship Endurance, he literally served his men. Rising early in the morning, he made hot milk and hand delivered it to every tent in the camp himself.

His mantra of unity and show of humanity was infectious. While his men were suffering the most terrible deprivation, they often rose to his example and showed tremendous compassion for each other. An example of this is when First Officer Lionel Greenstreet spilled his much-needed milk on the ice, he seemed most despondent by the loss. So, one by one, the seven men who shared his tent silently poured some of their equally precious ration into his mug, refilling it.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, when in 1916, Shackleton and five men spent 16 days crossing land and sea to find help - Shackleton returned with a rescue crew and, astonishingly, not one member of that expedition died.

Looking back over his career you can see that Shackleton always understood the profound impact that morale could have on an adventure. Another anecdote about this great man is that on a failed expedition to the South Pole, he famously surprised his tent mates with a Christmas Pudding he had concealed with his socks, ready to produce at the right moment when people needed a boost!

Shackleton is inspiring and a master class in human resilience. Against all odds, he managed the morale of his men and they all survived because he understood that, central to any adventure, once basic survival needs are met, the next survival tool is camaraderie and the science of a smile.

How Does This Resonate With Me?

So while what I am about to say cannot be held in the same regard as Shackleton leading his men while surviving on an iceberg, what I will say is this:

Since I joined Service Care Solutions in 2018, my faith in its leader/s has not waivered and has, in fact, grown exponentially in recent times.

Rewind back to September 2018: As part of the recruitment process for my role as Snr Marketing Executive for Service Care Solutions, I had an initial telephone interview with SCS's MD, Richard Freye, which was arranged in the evening due to both of our work commitments.

I remember that this started with Richard letting me know that his son was asleep upstairs and for me to 'please excuse him if his son woke up and / or interrupted the call' - this immediately put me at ease and, without realising, Richard had subconsciously communicated to me that there was a family ethos running through the veins of this business. Despite this, Richard quickly delved into the 'nitty gritty' of my marketing prowess and I was asked some very in depth questions about my technical performance and my ability to manage SCS’s needs. The take away message? Family is important but Richard also ensures he gets the right team to steer the ship through both fair and rough seas.

Over recent months and for the majority of the last year, we have all been tested in ways we never thought we would be. I hate to use the term 'unprecedented', but, well, these times have been unprecedented! Whilst I, for one, have been incredibly fortunate in that I have a job, a roof over my head and my health, I know that millions across the world have not been so lucky.

The reason for this blog though, and the reason for the protracted details about Shackleton and his men is this: at Service Care Solutions we have been fortunate enough to have great leaders. Richard Freye started the business in his back bedroom almost 16 years ago with two phone lines, a lot of hope and a lot of tenacity. Ross Edgley's book about 'The Art of Resilience' may refer to his physical (and mental) feats but I think sometimes, with entrepreneurs, this can get overlooked. So, in these musings I would like to acknowledge the resilience that Richard, Chris Musgrove (the other Executive Director) and all SCS employees have shown over the years.

Richard never meant for the following to broadcast publicly but I felt I wanted to share it with the wider world. He, along with some of our senior management team, have sent weekly updates / messages to the SCS team and, for me, they have proved invaluable. Richard’s latest company-wide update was sent on 27th November and these are some extracts:

Richard says, "The important thing is to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and well and we also need to make sure that our wider community are being looked after. I do wonder how we will look back upon this phenomenon. I wonder how it must be if you’re 10 (my son's age) and the impact this all has. With the poignancy of Remembrance Day earlier this month, I reflected on the times gone by and watched 'They Shall Not Grow Old', a film that comprises original World War front line footage that has been colourised and curated by award-winning director Peter Jackson. I wondered how incredibly difficult it must have been for people to suffer and live through that. What were the long term implications? What was the PTSD suffered at home and away? We may suffer tragedy – and all tragedy is relative – but some things are the same, and in my opinion, that 'same thing' that runs throughout humanity through the ages is the care for each other. The care for people close to you and even the care for those you may not even know.

Just think of how lonely Christmas is for so many people: the antipathy of what many of us believe Christmas to be. This Christmas – I ask you to reach out to one person you haven’t spoken to for a long time. Even if you just check in to say 'Hi – I hope you’re OK', you never know how much that may mean to that person.

On a positive note, I think we have learnt to ‘talk’ more, whereas in years gone by we didn’t really. Long may our humanity, our decency and our consideration carry us forward.

I have been writing these updates throughout 'lockdown' and I want to thank you for reading the journey.

Thank you for being you.

Thank you for the huge drive we all undertook in our return to Arthur House (following government guidance and being reassured that we are certified as ‘Covid safe’).

Thank you for preserving the essence of who we are.

Thank you for enabling me to feel at home and at ease to be myself, express myself and to feel a sense of belonging within our SCS community. I genuinely hope each and every one of you feel that too.”

In my opinion, those words are the words of a great leader. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to work for this company; not just under Richard and Chris’s 'watch' or 'captaincy' but under the people they have chosen to 'guide the ship' and 'lead the crew' during all of our expeditions, whether they be through rough or calm seas.

If you would like to be part of a company where you feel valued and be part of a team that is always striving to improve, please get in touch with us today - we'd love to hear from you! 

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