I was rummaging through a large box of forgotten memories; letters, cards, interspersed with old school photos and pieces of scribbled paper once passed between my 14-year-old self and neighbouring classmate in stealth mode. In the jumble, I came across a handwritten note and its neatly typed up counterpart. The writing was unmistakable but the content - and timing -came as a surprise.
The text my dad had carefully typed up on his sonorous Brother DeLuxe distilled his philosophy of working in a changing world. It was a progressive viewpoint for the time, highlighting spooky parallels in our thoughts across the decades. It was a topic we didn’t have the chance to discuss before he passed away - 2 years ago this month.
Dad had a purely accidental career as an overseas banker. He hitchhiked from Edinburgh to London in 1957 at the age of 17 with a desire to see a bit of the world and wound up pulling pints at the Coach & Horses in Soho until he spotted an advert that would change his life forever: “Spanish speakers wanted”. Loosely equipped with an ‘O-Level’ and a love of banter in the subject, the wee laddie from Edinburgh’s south side walked into the offices of the Bank of London and Montreal and found himself at the start of an international banking career. First stop: Port of Spain, Trinidad. Last stop: Cairo, Egypt.
Across his international postings “Clark” developed a reputation for being an authentic human leader capable of both effective and compassionate organisational change. He was a life-enhancing-ly cheerful and self-effacing character, witty raconteur, empathic listener and impeccably well-mannered soul. These skills shaped him as the people trouble-shooter; spotting potential, resolving conflict discretely while having everyone’s back. One of his posting instructions, for a different bank, required him to replace somebody who hadn’t yet been told that they “weren’t up to the job”. In one of many such stories, he found a way to facilitate and advocate for them to be promoted into a specialism that was about to become very prominent for the bank. The individual in question went onto excel and thrive in the new post.
As per the yellowing memo, he valued a democratic attitude, decisiveness, open-mindedness, sensitivity and concern for others. Dad understood that the world was changing and that thinking around management and leadership needed to shift. He had clear ideas about how to establish the right climate for personnel relationships to thrive. He wrote: “of all tasks… managing the human component is the central and most important task because all else depends on how well it is done.” He strongly believed that “A job is not enough. Look for opportunities to learn and develop capabilities while performing work that is worthwhile.”
He never knew this, but his unique ability to listen deeply and champion others inspired me to shift career lanes and take the leap into work culture and leadership coaching. Grief has a powerful way of clicking your life’s choices into sharp focus. His humility meant that many legendary stories I would love to know more about went with him…
As our changing world spins ever faster, we get caught up in complexity and speculation over what the future of work might look like. In truth, human cultures and leaders are timeless. And we need them now more than ever before.
Christina Clark Founder & CEO of Workculturati