Monday, 18 June 2018

Repeating Leadership Mistakes of 1802

I am returning from a 6 week “blogging” break and what is by far my longest period without posting in well over 12 months.

It’s not that I have been inactive, just that I have been somewhat occupied with other projects.

One such project has had me deep in research about matters concerning the settlement and opening up of what I will call European Australia.

Like many, during my school years I studied the exploits of many notable explorers including Matthew Flinders.

The exploits of Flinders are well known and undeniably significant. What was news to me was the achievements of other explorers in mapping the Australian Coastline.

Nicolas Baudin was a French explorer plying the coastal waters of Australia at the same time as Flinders. He departed France a few months before Flinders left England in 1801 but following some doubtful decisions, both explorers arrived in Australia waters at about the same time where they adopted quite separate exploration strategies.

Many reports suggest that Baudin may not have been the best of leaders and there are many accounts of decisions he made that made little or no sense. He quite regularly became separated from the second ship in his convoy and ventured in to areas and regions at times of the year well known to be inhospitable.

The was no actually uprising under his command however strong actions were taken at times to quell a potential mutiny.

He did however perform significant work and in many ways, work as significant as that credited to Flinders. His legacy suffered to a large degree by him making the mistake of succumbing to disease and passing away when only a few months from home allowing his second in command to write a record of history that gave himself most of the credit and blamed Baudin for any errors. Baudin and Flinders paths crossed on two occasions and as a result of them sharing information, Flinders was able to correct much of the misinformed deeds of his rival

As my research progressed, it occurred to me that Nicholas Baudin reflected the qualities and behaviours of far too many of today’s leaders in business, the public sector and politics.

Baudin lacked the ability to encourage the opinions and advice of others and when it was forthcoming, he was unable to accept or process it.

Just like many of today’s business, public sector and political leaders

Further Baudin was had an ego of a size that far exceeded any substance for such an ego. He also presided over an environment of mistrust between himself, his support team and crew, his communication was evasively and he was indecisive, inconsistent and divisive.

Just like many of today’s business, public sector and political leaders.

However, despite leadership shortcoming, Baudin and todays business, public sector and political leaders shared another common trait. Nicholas Baudin was was a great observer and possessed great wisdom and would have been a far more valuable contributor if not elevated to an outright Leadership position.

The expedition commanded by Nicholas Baudin achieved many things but did so at great cost. The time allowed for the venture was exceeded by 30% and the cost of the venture exceeded budget several fold. Many lives were also lost.

Of greater cost was the many broken spirits of his Officers and Crew.  

The true cost of poor leadership be it on a voyage of discovery in the early 1800’s or in our business, public sector or political realms today is the breaking of human spirits. It is the feelings of worthlessness, lack of appreciation and lack of meaning that comes from feeling excluded or that the only purpose is to do a job of work for the personal benefit and glory of others.

Will we ever learn this fundamental principal?

As for the wisdom of Nicholas Baudin, if more attention had been given to the observations outlined in a letter he wrote in November 1802 to the then Governor of New South Wales, Australia would be a world leader by way of a more cohesive and positive culture and a more diverse and inclusive community than we enjoy today.

But. for that to have happened, Governor King would have had to be better equipped to processes and consider the advice and opinions offered by others. Sadly, he was not. (more on this another time)

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