Despite best intentions

By Jamie Rowland

Jamie loves helping businesses explore how better leadership capabilities can lead to better results. He is great at listening and asking the objective questions which stimulate new thinking.

Here is a little story about a feedback conversation which was started with the best of intentions, but landed with disappointing results. Take from it what you will that will help you be an even better leader.

Once upon a time not so long ago there was a popular but small primary school in the west of London. The class we are going to focus on included a boy called Johnny who was nearly six years old when this story took place.  Johnny was the only child of two older working parents – the mother a lawyer, the father an accountant – who both doted on their son and were keen that he should never go without.  Johnny was used to getting his own way and was easily frustrated when others came between him and what he wanted. Often those ‘others’ would be his fellow classmates; he was notorious for an incident at somebody else’s birthday party when he had ripped open all their presents, and then had a serious tantrum when he was reproved for his actions.  When his parents came to collect him they did little to redress the situation.  Hence poor Johnny became notorious as something of a bully.

The only people who seemed not to see this were his parents, who were becoming increasingly distressed by the fact that Johnny was invited on less play-dates and often complained he had no friends.  In steps our heroine – Francesca.

Francesca was the mother of Maria who was in Johnny’s class.  Francesca loved harmony and always looked to bring out the best in people, so the behaviours that Johnny was displaying led to some sleepless nights.  She hoped the teachers might do something, she hoped the other children would successfully peer manage him, she hoped, just hoped someone else would do something about it.  The months went by and nothing changed.  Francesca resolved to step up as a leader and intercede.

She started to look out for Johnny’s parents at the school gates, but she always seemed to miss them, or else Johnny was being dropped off / picked up by the child-minder.

Then late one evening at about 9pm Francesca had been shopping at a supermarket with a multi-storey car park near a tube station.  As she was loading her bags into the boot she spotted Johnny’s dad a few cars away – it was now or never….. Her adrenalin surged as she strode across.

Johnny’s dad was knackered – he was bang in the middle of his busiest period of the year as several of his clients came to their year end. This was the earliest he was getting home in several weeks – he was desperate for a glass of wine, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep before getting his nose back to the grindstone.  As he opened his car door a half-crazed middle-aged Italian woman accosted him:

Francesca:       You’re Johnny’s dad, aren’t you?

Johnny’s dad:   Yes, and you are?

Francesca:       There’s something you need to know –

Johnny’s dad:   Get to the point

Francesca:       He’s a bully

Johnny’s dad:   You appear to be the one bullying strangers late at night in a public car park

Francesca:       But….

Johnny’s dad: Good night! (he slams the car door shut and drives off)

Francesca:       But I only wanted to help because I care about your son


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