Multiple Perspectives for Leadership Success

A gallant and noble soldier

 When I was at high school, I studied the life and untimely death of Major-General Andrew Wauchope, a British Army Officer of noble decent, who was killed during the Battle of Magersfontein, in the South African War in 1899. He was known for his efficiency, professionalism and attention to detail. He was heralded as brave yet cautious and was extremely empathetic towards his brigade – a quality not often found in men in his position. He surely had a promising future ahead of him. It was sadly ironic that he became the victim of a poorly carried out reconnaissance mission which led him and his men straight into the hands of the enemy…

Leadership found wanting

After hearing about the planned mission, Wauchope had argued for a different approach. He had carefully studied the area and was aware of the dangers that this plan posed. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to convince his superiors and one of the other regiments involved complicated things even further. He took the first bullet and was one of hundreds of men who died that day. The animosity that the troops on the ground felt towards their leadership as a result is captured in this poem written by Private Smith in 1899:

Such was the day for our regiment,
Dread the revenge we will take.
Dearly we paid for the blunder
A drawing-room General’s mistake.

Why weren’t we told of the trenches?
Why weren’t we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column?
May ‘Tommy Atkins’ enquire…

Had Wauchope’s warning been heeded, the deadly trenches and barbed wire could have been avoided. His training in the traditional ‘army way’ of subordination meant that he put loyalty before persistence. Wauchope’s life tells the story of a talented, strategic, influential leader, yet his superiors missed his value entirely and refused his input, with the result of many lives being lost.

Wauchope’s life leaves many lessons

There are four very valuable lessons that the ‘Lieutenant’ of the company can take from this narrative if they want their business to remain relevant and sustainably competitive:

  • Appoint team leaders who are willing and able to reinvent strategy and plans when needed. These kinds of leaders will be ready to change their way of perceiving situations, accommodate the input of others and react accordingly.
  • Choose team leaders who want to know the facts and different perspectives so that they understand the scenarios that could occur and put a relevant plan in place. Although they’re ready to give the command and follow through to the end, they remain flexible and work with their team, so that the best decisions are taken throughout.
  • Create open lines of communication so that employees have access to their team leaders and know they can speak when they need to. Know the people around you and the specific skills and abilities that they bring to the team.
  • Build a culture where the team is enabled and equipped to share concerns or objections, to explore the facts and make collective decisions. This can be done through various capacity enhancement initiatives and opportunities where employees are enabled to analyse situations, ask the right questions, think critically and understand the environment and the types of problems that could occur. This will help to ensure that blind spots are covered, and the best decision is taken at the right time.

Build a winning ‘regiment’

 If you surround yourself with people who are empathetic, hardworking, determined, goal driven, strategic and loyal, you will have a ‘regiment’ that you can trust and that can be led confidently in the best direction for the company.

Wauchope didn’t have the luxury of asking, “Why weren’t we told?” after the failed mission. The perspectives and decisions of his superiors had devastating results. With this in mind, let’s be leaders who understand the value of being ready to listen to the input of others and change course where it really matters.