Preparation and the quiet leader

I am sitting in Tavistock Square in London, just by the statue of Ghandi.

Suddenly I am aware of a man in my peripheral vision, striding back and forth on the lawn. He’s in animated conversation with someone, his gestures and face telling me that this conversation matters to him. Then I notice – no phone, no Bluetooth earpiece.

He’s not on a call, he’s preparing for a speech, and by the looks of it it’s one that matters to him very much.

This is good preparation. He glances at his notes, says some words. His hands make in private miniature the gesture he’ll later use on stage. Now and again he tries out a facial expression, feeling the fit to the words. I have the sense he’s got a way of preparing himself. He may not like public speaking, but he’s preparing well. He’s likely to do a better job of it as a result.

We do place a lot of importance on words, don’t we? Yet the statue of Ghandi reminds me that something deeper matters too. In making an impact, in making our statement towards the transformation we seek, something matters more.

I saw an old newsreel once of Ghandi being interviewed. His voice was almost inaudible. His physical presence, tiny and fragile. But this was a man who commanded the respect of nations and who played his role in transforming the outlook of what was then the most powerful empire on earth. It wasn’t mere oratory that did it.

Ghandi was certainly an able speaker when he needed to be, as an advocate and in his role in the independence movement. But his authority came from the way his being reflected the words. He lived what he spoke. He put his body and his life in service of the words, and all of this in service of his deeper purpose.

We can use words like authenticity quite lightly at times, but in this case I imagine there was something honestly authentic. Ghandi lived his life in service of his ethics, not being perfect, but constantly testing himself in service of his aspiration. He called his autobiography “My experiments with truth” – and I have a sense of his constant examination of his actions, an unending curiosity and learning about how to pursue a purpose wisely and ethically.

I suspect this didn’t make Ghandi an easy man to be around at times. But I think it lies behind his greatness.

I hope that in his own way the man preparing his speech was doing some of the same work. Testing out his words and his gestures, not as glib stagecraft but as something deeper. I’ll never know of course, but I’d like to think this is possible ….

How do your actions fit your words? In your leadership, what matters most, what you say, your way of being, or the brilliant way in which they come together, making you compelling, trusted and a genuine leader of ethical and purposeful transformation … That’s worth a thought …