• Chris Russell

Walking through brambles

Updated: Jul 21

They say leadership is easy when the going is good. Only in a crisis do we truly test our mettle. Perhaps. Or maybe leadership is also what we do during the good times so we can ride the crises. Imagine a fire fighter doing no practice, training or learning between each blaze. Only stepping up into the heat of the flames. Pitching these thoughts against the development work I’ve been doing over the last few months, I decided to take a walk and mull things over.



I’ve been walking a lot recently; a chance to escape the pressures of work, childcare and the lodestone of lockdown. I love the momentum, the fresh air and the pace of nature. The immediacy of current affairs pales into perspective as you pass by, over several weeks, the slowly growing barley and the changing hues of the patchwork fields. I’ve been treading familiar paths but the current restrictions have limited the opportunities, if not my desire, for adventure. Pouring over the Ordnance Survey as I slurp my morning coffee has become a daily pleasure. Maps offer a representation of what’s there, or at least what was at the time of publications. But they only really prove useful if you also know what you want.

There’s always a hidden doorway, a road not taken or a different viewpoint if we’re prepared to look.

Today I wanted distance, but also exploration, a chance to turn those dotted green lines into tangible landscape. Taking my working life of worldwide travel into the confines of my spare bedroom and a few square miles of surrounding countryside has been an interesting wrench. But familiarity only breeds contempt in the incurious. There’s always a hidden doorway, a road not taken or a different viewpoint if we’re prepared to look.


“I wonder where that goes” spoken, thought, or bubbling in the subconscious perhaps, but a refrain we all feel from time to time. Well today we’ll find out; a first time right turn and into a new world as we skirt the unfamiliar field. Half a mile, then a sharp turn into the woods. So says the map. Often the trick with navigation is laying over the imagined world with whatever is in front of you; tuning your awareness to find the way-marker, the barely-trodden path. As we descended the woods the going got worse. A disappearing track and an increasing incursion of undergrowth began to dampen the mood. Maybe this was the mettle-testing crisis I’d been denying the necessity of. Brambles and nettles, chest high, insistent and hell-bent on bare legs.


First question: do we go on? The age-old probabilistic problem of risk and reward. Balancing the determination to push through with the weight of worth at the end. We had time and enthusiasm on our side. So let’s continue. Next: who goes first? It’s a good test of ones leadership and willingness to serve when you’re getting stung. How much do you devote to beating your own path, how much to protecting those to come? Stepping over a particularly prickly briar, do you alert who’s next, or spend time clearing the obstacle? Or just press on and reach the end more quickly?

The immediacy of a crisis isn’t the place to shape strategy; just to test it.

As we reached the sanctuary of the road, proud of pushing on, elated at our escape from nature’s clutches, I began to reflect on the crisis. How much were my responses shaped by the moment? What attributes and behaviours came to the fore? Determination, awareness and sense of service all spoke loudly through the thicket. But other things got lost. The immediacy of a crisis isn’t the place to shape strategy; just to test it. And authenticity, creativity and versatility aren’t made here, just measured.

There is no easy way to excellent leadership, but there are many routes all around us.

Wandering home I wonder if I’ve resolved anything. I agree on the mettle-testing moments of crisis, but believe they only show so much. Which leaves us with the easy-street leadership in between. This is where we make our gains; put in the hard yards of development, practice and growth that will serve us through good times and bad. There is no easy way to excellent leadership, but there are many routes all around us. You just might have to walk through brambles to get there.


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