Bus company director Charlie Hamilton (EMBA 2017) explains how learning to drive his own buses will enable him to lead his colleagues more effectively.
I wanted to briefly share my thoughts on my style of leadership, and some of the things I am trying in a traditional bus company in trying to change the way we work.
Last Friday I took and thankfully passed my Cat D Licence from Apex Training, which allows me to drive buses and coaches – since I am MD of Whippet Coaches and Ascendal Group UK, a bus and coach company, and have been for several years, I thought it important that I know what 80% of my colleagues do, and really experience what they experience. So today I’ve been out with one of our Driver Training Officers being assessed so I can drive our vehicles with our passengers on board.
I don’t expect to be out on the road every week, nor every couple, but I am going to try and drive at least once a month.
Lots of people, including the Test Examiner and my wife have asked why am I doing this? Do you need to drive?
The answer is simple, No, I don’t need to drive, and could have a cracking career without ever sitting behind the wheel of a bus or coach – but what right do I have to lead my colleagues if I cannot relate in the slightest to what they are going through daily.
It’s the reason I took my Certificate of Professional Competency (a qualification to be a Transport Manager in the transport industry) – not because I want my name on the licence, I did it because I should be able to understand what my colleagues know and do. Whilst this may not work throughout my career, and if I changed fields into something very difficult this may not always be practical, but I think it’s important to earn the respect of your colleagues, and not rely on your job title to get things moving.
One of the many great things I admire about our Armed Forces is that the senior leadership of each service have all worked their way through the ranks and understand what it is to be on the ground, at sea or in the air in difficult situations. This makes them champions of their servicemen and women when faced with tough choices.
“What right does someone have to lead colleagues and businesses if they cannot and are not prepared to do what it is that the organisation does to survive.“– Charlie Hamilton
Leadership isn’t a right, given to you by your boss with job title – that’s management, but leading a group of special people is a privilege, one often overlooked by leaders of large and small organisations, politicians and officials – our colleagues are people who intrust us with their working careers, they deserve much more than what many leaders give. Some may argue that delegation is key – but in my mind there is a fine line between delegation and abdication – and the more senior staff get, the more blurred that line becomes.
One of the initiatives that we are adopting in #Cambridge is that of ‘Employee of the Month’, this will be an employee nominated and voted for by colleagues – that employee, regardless of job or location will receive the last Friday of the month off (or last day of their shift if applicable) and I will cover their duty for the day (or night if it’s a night shift). The only exception to this is if it’s an engineer, as I cannot cover their roles (they will still get a day off and I will help in the engineering office).
This is important to me to show my colleagues that I am prepared, and able too (touch wood) to stand side by side them and do their work, whether it is a coach driver, a bus driver, an office or depot worker, I am prepared to do all their work for that day.
Richard Branson is often quoted saying it’s about the staff – look after them and they will after your customers, and I totally agree with the sentiment. Sometimes there are difficult decisions to be made, but trying to be clear with the staff, honest with them, makes a big difference and gets that buy in and support any organisation needs to be successful.