Unto the Breach

A follower’s reflections on leadership

Part 1: Making the time of day

Sean Dunn, CD, PEng


One of the side-benefits of being an Army Reservist is that, by virtue of living two parallel careers, I have been graced with more than my share of leaders to work with over the years. Each of these leaders presented an opportunity to observe and learn what leadership behaviours worked (and sometimes, which didn’t). I am fortunate that a handful of these leaders were truly outstanding — they became my mentors and role models. They not only shaped my professional career, but formed the foundation of who I wanted to be as a person. I would proudly and earnestly follow them “unto the breach.” What set these leaders apart? If I wanted to emulate their successes, I must carefully observe and analyse their behaviours and actions.

Upon reflection, despite all being unique in their own respects, each of these leaders exhibited common behaviours that contributed to their success.

In the interest of delivering early and often, I have decided to split this into a multi-part series.

They always had the time of day

The exceptional leaders were more than just “approachable” and “personable” — I sought to be in their presence. Each moment was an opportunity to learn from their wisdom, gain an insight into their thought processes, and observe their leadership in action.

The exceptional leaders always had the time of day for me: I could stop by their office, or (a sign of the times) send a text message. I was always welcome; they would find a way to make time for me, and never made me feel like our conversation was an inconvenience.

These leaders became my mentors. They would become my sounding board — to them, I would air my grievances, express my enthusiasm for new ideas to try, and seek guidance when at a loss at how to best handle a situation. They invested the effort to establish a rapport, and in doing so, they were able to influence and guide my own development.

What tangible behaviours enabled this rapport-building?

  • They were good conversationalists. These leaders had mastered the art of the conversation; they always seemed genuinely interested and enthusiastic to listen to what I had to say.
  • They somehow refrained from portraying themselves as “busy”. Had these leaders appeared to be “busy”, it would have discouraged interaction. The best leaders managed to carry heavy burdens, yet outwardly project themselves as calm, at-ease, confident and accessible. Even with a packed schedule, they would make the time of day
  • They compartmentalized their emotions. The outstanding leaders rarely made it obvious when they had a bad day. I never had to play Russian Roulette with their mood; their demeanour was predictable, and that encouraged and open and candid dialogue.
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