The country has been shocked and saddened to hear of the death of 25-year-old police officer Ronan Kerr, who was killed after a bomb exploded under his car in Omagh, County Tyrone last Saturday. More than 300 families have been similarly bereaved throughout the troubled times in Northern Ireland, and even though there has been some subsidence in terrorism during the last three or four years, it is going to take some very strong leadership to help Northern Ireland through this time of crisis.
Ronan’s mother, Nuala Kerr, was calm, dignified and controlled in her heartfelt television plea to end the violence. Following her words, this statement was issued by North Down UUP Assembly candidate, Colin Breen:
“I want to stand up and applaud the words and courage of Nuala Kerr, mother of murdered Police Officer, Ronan. At this time of unbelievable grief for the family, Mrs Kerr has spoken for this entire community in a way no one else has since the murder of her young son. Ronan made a stand for this community, and his proud mother has made a stand for him. Her strength and bravery give the lead to the rest of us. We have worked hard for peace and all of us – irrespective of background or religion – owe it to Ronan and his mother to continue the fight”.
But how will the leaders in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK help the country to stand up for what is right, yet still maintain the peace?
No matter what the leadership challenge being faced, there are two things that remain a constant way to begin the process of getting the best out of a difficult situation.
The first thing is to lead your people rather than herding them. A son once tried to take on his mother’s usual role of getting their chickens into the hen house each night to keep them safe from foxes. Try as he might, he could not round them all up into the hen house, so the next evening he watched to see how his mother achieved the task. Instead of trying to round the chickens up, she walked among them, dropping handfuls of grain. Once the chickens started following the trail of grain, the mother was easily able to lead them inside the hen house, and they willingly followed.
The same principle applies to human beings – if we have trust in our leaders, and a reason to follow them, then it makes for a much easier process.
The second thing is to ensure that as a leader, you set realistic expectations. These expectations need to be high enough to challenge your people and push them to the best of their ability, but it is also very important that they are set realistically enough to be achievable, or there is a risk of damage to morale, and an air of “can’t be bothered to try any more” can set in.
Finally, those in leadership should always remember this – people will not remember what you say to them. People will not even remember what you do. But people will always remember how you made them feel. Therefore, a good starting point for leadership is to regularly ask yourself “How do I want my leaders to make *me* feel?”