Leadership and maximising our canal network

With many colleagues taking some well-earned leave with their families during the half-term week, it was an opportunity to catch up in the office and more widely. Making the most of it, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Adnan Saif and Simon Pepprill of the Canal and River Trust at Stone. We chose to meet at Stone deliberately; it is known as Canal Town, and it was a pleasure to conduct our discussion in the sunshine, walking along the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal. We probably don’t make enough of our canal network in Staffordshire, and it was good to be reminded that we have more than any other county in terms of navigable canals, at 265km. Many of our colleagues work closely with the trust on improving the network, particularly in developing the towpaths as cycle paths. There is however, more that we could and probably should do to help the Trust to develop their potential. There is a clear alignment in their volunteering strategy with People Helping People, and there is probably something around reducing isolation and improving physical and mental wellbeing on which we could work together.

On a completely different track, I have been following, and occasionally contributing to a debate on LinkedIn around leadership, and more especially the applicability of military leadership to a civilian setting. Four years after hanging up my uniform full-time, I now feel qualified to comment from a position of experience in both places. The bottom line is hardly surprising; soldiers and civilians want the same things from their leaders – clarity, consistency and trust. Having started in a part of the Army where the soldiers were highly qualified mechanics and technicians, I learned very early on that everybody wanted to do the best job possible, that I would never know as much as the people that I was leading about their specialisms, and that my job was to solve the problems that prevented them from being more effective. The motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, “Serve to Lead” is deliberately simple and in English to ensure that it can be understood by every cadet under training. The concept of Servant Leadership is controversial in some areas – the leader in the role of servant to those whom they lead – but it works for me. I’d value your thoughts.

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