London at dusk
Paul Mather is Head of La Trobe Business School and Professor of Governance and Financial Accounting.
Many Melbournians watched the events unfolding in London on Sunday morning (AEST) in horror. As I am London born, and lived there for many years prior to moving to Australia, the familiarity of the scenes added to the horror and raw emotions I felt. I walked many of the bridges in London as part of daily commutes, and the “bridge run” that often covered London Bridge, where you run up one bridge, along the embankment and return via another bridge, was a regular feature at one stage of my life. Exhilarating, but the river Thames at dawn is often exceedingly cold and I can still feel my skin tingle!
These events of Sunday morning made me reflect on a number of matters, including the relevance of what was unfolding to business more broadly and leadership in particular and I wanted to share some of these reflections.
First, the importance of leadership and resilience however stressful or overwhelming these situations may be. In a famous TED talk, General Stanley McChrystal said “those who depend on us need their leaders on our feet”. I would extend that and suggest that it is not just on their feet but standing tall. Who will forget the leadership and sheer presence of the then Mayor of New York, Rudi Giuliani who inspired millions of people in the US and beyond in the aftermath of 9/11?
Second, that you should never waste a crisis! The British Prime Minister saying “enough is enough” in her initial public statement many hope signals her seeing an opportunity to use these horrific events to make necessary changes to the approach taken to counter extremism that may otherwise have been more challenging.
Third, notwithstanding the circumstances, there is always a need to remain true to your core values and those of your organisation. In the context of Britain at this time, it is not to be tempted by populism, and to remain mindful of the values that underpin British society, especially around civil liberties and the rule of law.
Fourth, the extended TV coverage showed us very clearly that being a leader is a lot more than having a title and that, when tested, many people show leadership and courage irrespective of their official position. The composure under immense pressure shown by first responders such as unarmed police officers, paramedics, and numerous bystanders was a sight to behold and restored my faith in humanity. My personal stand out was the gentleman with a strong Cockney (East London) accent who described how he threw chairs and bottles at one of the terrorists to draw him away from someone under threat. These selfless acts are a timely reminder that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and is scattered right through all organisations and does not just reside in the C suite.
Finally, at a more operational level, whilst the British police and armed forces are often considered amongst the best in the world, one can only wonder at the amount of risk analysis and planning that underpinned the terrorist threat being eliminated within 8 minutes of the first call. We face different risks with far less impact in everyday organisational life, but these actions are nevertheless a reminder to all of us about the importance of analysing and mitigating operating and financial risk.
Back to London. Londoners are resilient and you underestimate them at your peril. Of one thing I am certain. A great City and its people that withstood the plague, the blitz during World War 2, and more recently the IRA bombings, are not going to be cowed by a group of extremists. Contrary to the words in the famous nursery rhyme, London Bridge will never fall down.
In 1963, the US President John Kennedy visited West Berlin, a City surrounded by East Germany at the start of the Cold War and, in a speech designed to express solidarity with a beleaguered City, said “I take pride in the words ich bin ein Berliner”. I am now a proud Melbournian but on Sunday I realized that London will always be my second home and I too take pride in the words-I am a Londoner.