During my working career I held leadership roles and was fortunate to undertake a variety of leadership programmes focussing on an array of methods often informed by ethics, values and beliefs. These leadership strategies and tactics would be adopted and adapted to a wide range of situations and people management so that my approach to any issue had a basis in theory and would ensure consistency and confidence in the way I applied my leadership. As a result I have been in a helicopter, watched dancing from a balcony, developed and built a spacecraft, recognised that what I lacked in charisma I could make up with emotional intelligence and importantly differentiate between the transactional and the transformational leadership style that would allow me to flex and adapt to the situational need. Equally in the natural hierarchical order of my organisation I was naturally managed by (mainly men) those balancing the plethora of similar leadership approaches in managing people and situations.
Then I met TaPas. He would admittedly be shocked to read any indication that this piece might be about him, and I also know that he would have read the first line and immediately decided it was not worth continuing; his view would more likely be that it was something he’d rather eat fish and chips from than read. But it is about him and it is about his leadership. Our most effective leaders throughout history have emerged from situations that either afforded them opportunities to lead effectively or to have effortlessly failed. TaPas cannot claim to have emerged from an historic situation but in his own inimitable style I will argue that he was not only effective he effortlessly succeeded.
At first meeting, he doesn’t strike you as charismatic. His shirt is likely to be hanging outside his trousers at the back, his trousers sagging around his shoes indicate he didn’t take much time getting the right fit, something more important going on perhaps. He will be carrying a sheaf of papers, precariously balanced on his briefcase on the outside rather than inside and always in danger of cascading to the floor, creating the potential drama of an additional layer of chaos in his organisation. For those of us onlookers, familiar with this sight we were strangely comforted that, despite the possibility of such chaos befalling him, there was a flurry of yellow post-it notes, carefully ordered containing succinct notations outlining which paper was for which meeting, where he was going, the time, date and person he was addressing. You’d be excused for thinking, “he sounds like a bumbling fool” at first glance you may also form that view, but you’d be the fool if you underestimate TaPas in this way.
He was the only transformational leader I ever worked with. He doesn’t even acknowledge that as a statement, mainly because he effortlessly applied his methods in the absence of theory; he would argue he was just being himself. His management team would walk on hot coals for him such was the bond he developed with us as a team. But the teams on the ground of whom he was in overall charge worshiped him. TaPas put his staff at the heart of every decision, but we adhered to an overt code of ethical behaviour we spent two days discerning and agreeing must inform every decision affecting the division and the individuals who worked there. He placed importance of being present, turning up on the nightshift and wading into battle to support his teams when they needed him most. The Battle of PP as it was later more commonly known created the status of legend. I gained more confidence in my ability in my whole career in those precious years than my whole time in the service. Others might have felt his wrath, but it was never driven by personal or subjective views, rather TaPas was driven in these decisions by a code of ethical behaviour, a moral compass he considered essential to enable him to consistently judge those of us who strayed.
Despite the depth of responsibility he carried every day, there was room for humour and laughter, mainly at his own expense, his own misgivings. Such was the subtlety of his leadership, he was giving us permission to laugh along with him. Equally we protected him; like barbed wire surrounding a wall to prevent intruders climbing over it, we gathered around him prickling at anyone who might seek to usurp his methods. If I reflect on his character and his ambitions he was developing and building each and every one of us both consciously and sub-consciously, effortlessly succeeding in achieving his goals. Then he got ill. We were all so concerned as his behaviour was a bit odd, his driving skills were beginning to resemble his briefcase, always moving in the wrong direction to the rest of the traffic. We secretly shared our concerns and collectively identified we needed to explore this with him, our leader was ill and he needed our support. We rallied in his hour of need, but obviously his family stepped up at this time.
A tumour the size of a tennis ball was removed from his brain, he claimed it was clearly preventing his organisational skills from optimal functionality. He called me the day after the operation and I could visualise him dancing around the ward in his tie up the back gown, naturally untied and gaping, his backside most likely hanging out as he shared his delight and glee at the success of this serious operation. I stopped my car, as I was on the A9 at the time heading back to the Danders, and I wept tears of relief and joy that my great friend had been saved. When I next saw him the dark shadows below his eyes had disappeared and his cheeky cockney smile reached all the way to his forehead.
As with everything in life, things change, its a constant, and we are advised our leadership can adapt to it. But not when its been along with a transformational leader. You are going to miss that style, that affirmation, that approach. Soon our team dispersed. Scattered to the four winds. But such was the bond we had nurtured we determined that we would continue to meet, to celebrate this unique relationship under TaPas’ leadership and what better way than over food and wine. When there are a few of you agreeing on the kind of food we would like to share, a collegiate decision is almost too difficult to reach. But Tapas was the resounding vote as it provided us with a variety that reflected the team; a miasma of dishes to suit all tastes, reflecting our personalities a fiery chili and prawns, sweet and crispy chicken, round robust meatballs, melodramatic patatas bravas, flirty anti-pasta. The slow yet timely delivery of the dishes was reminiscent of the ruminations of our team meetings, the delicious wines and jugs of beer enabled a relaxation that permitted us to settle into smaller more intimate groups chatting and comfortably sharing our stories and news before musical chairs commenced and we drifted with stumbling ease into the next seat and initiated the chatter all over again. And not a single post-it note was in sight. TaPas enjoying Tapas with his team and over time that team included partners and those quarterly meetings continued until COVID changed it all.
One man created some of the greatest memories of my career, the most harmonious team I ever worked with and became one of my closest friends. The Tapas Crew our Whatsapp group name is indicative of what real leadership might achieve beyond your working life and a reminder that for some we can rely on theory of course, but real leaders are doing it in their sleep. Oh and its his birthday today, Happy Birthday TaPas……..