Pen Pictures of Inspirational Leaders

For some time, I have been minded to write short pen pictures of people I have met who have impressed, appalled, or generally interested me and this is the first of these occasional pieces.

Scott Davison was one of those who impressed me as a leader. He will not be known by many other than those, still living, who were in the ICI community in the 1980s, but his skill set was substantial. I don’t know where he was born but from his accent I assume it was Glasgow. He was short with black hair and had many of the stereotypical characteristics of a Glaswegian. He was quick witted, humorous, with a passionate interest in football but sadly no longer with us.

I first met him when I was consulting for ICI Fibres, then based in Harrogate, an important and moderately large division in the UK chemical company. We subsequently worked again at ICI Acrylics.

I was reminded of Scott when this link for a course came through the email:

Survive and Thrive after a Difficult Conversation: Difficult conversations between managers and subordinates, whether they involve coaching or criticism, are a necessary part of the workplace, yet they are often a significant cause of anxiety or misunderstandings. Join us and learn how to handle these conversations.

Scott never had the need for such a course. He understood how to motivate and inspire his staff and also have those difficult conversations. Here are two examples.

At the end of one day we were meeting in his large office reviewing project progress and our meeting done, we left the site together, heading for our cars. Chatting, along the way, we passed three or four people.

First was a senior executive and we stopped to talk. Scott asked him questions on a new customer throwing in both detailed sales history data and forecast statistics. He had no brief sheets. It was all from memory. He had a grasp of detail. It was also a personal relationship and the conversation finished with a question on the executive’s son progress with the school football team.

Our journey was stopped two or three times more as he said goodnight to staff. Each time he knew them, knew what they were doing and their priorities.

Finally, we arrived at the exit and he stopped to talk to the doorman. He knew his first name and that his wife was very unwell. His concern was real and appreciated.

It was a lesson to me that high position in a company doesn’t make you an elite but gives you added responsibility for a large family.

The second example of the talents of this man was during a meeting we were having. We had been together for just under an hour of concentrated conversation on strategy, filled with data and conceptual thought. Scott’s secretary interrupted us reminding him of another meeting with a senior colleague. I offered to leave but Scott said I should stay.

The colleague arrived in the room and before he could utter a word the calm and thoughtful Scott erupted into Glaswegian wrath telling his colleague exactly what was expected and why he was failing, before being summarily dismissed to do better. When finally, out of the room the calm Scott returned to me and said, ‘he needs a bollocking, once in a while.’

Scott was the consummate actor in the sense that, like a chameleon, he could change his mood and tone to meet the needs of his audience but that was not to say that he wasn’t sincere. Quite the opposite. He was not just sincere, but he was passionate about the company’s success and maximising the performance of the whole team or family. He knew exactly how to motivate and inspire people.

Leaders lead in many ways and he was a hugely successful executive.

He was honest in relationships and he knew the difficult conversations were far easier when delivered by someone who knows you well and has spent their time to help you succeed.

I have had to dismiss people and like everyone I hate it but, when this situation arises I think of Scott. I ask myself how would he handle the situation? And each time the same thought develops. How have I related to them over the preceding months, quarters, and years and how much of this problem is mine?

You can’t learn on a course the techniques to deliver those ‘difficult’ conversations but rather you need to meet your own Scott.