Humility and Authentic Human Leadership

My Dad used to be a Prison Officer in the infamous and foreboding Dartmoor Prison, pictured above (I grew up in the street of houses you can see on the left of the picture at the top, literally 100m from the 4m high, 3m thick surrounding wall!).

Partial to a pint or 2, Dad used to frequent the 3 local pubs, the Devil’s Elbow, the Plume of Feathers, and The Prince of Wales.

The Prince of Wales was his favourite, and he used to sit on a bar stool about where the one on the right is in the picture below.

One foggy, rainy, winter’s Sunday lunchtime (Dartmoor has LOTS of foggy, rainy days!), Dad was sat at the bar on his own having a warming Laphroaig whisky when a lone man walked into the pub. The man shook the rain off his Barbour jacket in the porch as he opened the door and stepped in, briefly surveying the scene, as you do walking into a pub.

Dad was the only person in the place. The lone man strolled over to the bar where my Dad was sitting, and remarked, as the locals do, on the typical Princetown rainy, foggy weather. Dad had a feeling he knew this man from somewhere, but couldn’t quite place him…

The man then casually asked my Dad what he was drinking, to which my Dad replied: “a nice, warming Laphroaig, perfect for a day like today.” The man said “ah, that’s my favourite, I’ll join you in one of those,” and ordered from the bartender, also buying one for my Dad.

The man extended his hand and introduced himself: “I’m Charles.” “I’m Bill” replied my Dad, “good to meet you.” Charles and my Dad nodded a ‘cheers’ at each other as they sipped their Scotch and sat at the bar, casually chatting away.

The conversation was initially about the weather, as is the norm for locals living on Dartmoor, but then the conversation deepened as Charles asked about my Dad, what he did, what he thought of the prison, the justice system, and about my Dad’s experiences in the prison, in particular as the Gatekeeper (Dad was often rostered on ‘The Gate’, admitting and releasing prisoners and visitors).

After a few minutes, it suddenly dawned on my Dad who ‘Charles’ was. The ‘Charles’ he was casually chatting and drinking with at the bar was Prince Charles – now King Charles III.

Why am I telling this story? Well, two reasons. First, for me, this is a great example of humility and authentic, human leadership. How the Prince of Wales, now King, completely stripped off his princely mantle and sat and had a drink and a chat with my Dad, human to human.

It is an example of what leaders, and indeed all of us, need to do more of, but sadly seems to be becoming rarer and rarer in these time-poor, high-pressure times.

My Dad’s story is just one of many of how the then Prince Charles, in his role as head of The Duchy of Cornwall, would wander around on his own without any of his bodyguards or entourage and simply take time to chat to the locals, finding out about them as human beings, about their lives and what was happening ‘on the ground’. Practical humility and authentic, human leadership in action.

My Dad was a tough, hard-nosed man who, outwardly at least, showed little emotion. His idea of encouragement was “toughen up, stop bawling your eyes out and get on with it.” The terms ‘authentic, human leadership’ were simply not in his vocabulary.

However, my Dad remembered literally until his dying day how amazing it was that the then Prince Charles was such a decent, down-to-earth human who made time to simply sit down and have a drink and a chat and find out about and listen to him.

Of all the tools we have at our disposal as leaders, sitting down with your people, 1:1, and simply having a chat, finding out who they are and listening to them is one of, if not the single most powerful leadership and engagement tool we have. If it can impress my Dad, it can sure as hell can impress a HUGE range of people!

Sadly, in today’s super-busy, time-pressured, task-driven environment it is increasingly becoming one of the single most underutilised and forgotten tools. Which is a real shame, because it can literally make a world of difference in building trust and engagement, and is something people massively value and respect, and something they will likely remember for a very long time.

So, what can you do to ‘strip off your status mantle’ and make time to chat with, and simply listen to the people around you?

I’m interested to hear your thinking on this – please reach out via email if you’d like to share your thoughts.

The second reason I’m telling the story is that while I mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, having served my Queen and Country (see my article), I have faith in the leadership King Charles III will bring as he follows in his Mum’s much loved and revered footsteps. Big boots to fill, as the saying goes, but I have faith he will fill them well in his own unique way.

Simon and the team @ Southern Cross Coaching & Development