During my corporate career, one of the larger programs of work I led was for the replacement of the end-to-end customer care and billing systems in my organisation. The remit was to identify the replacement billing, provisioning and customer care platform and implement the chosen solution. This was a huge undertaking, a $100 million program, for which I led the decision making process. No pressure!
The upside of this was the fabulous opportunity I had to visit vendor and customer sites round the world to really see these different systems in action. As part of this program process, I made three separate trips in succession. The first was to England, Scotland, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany, closely followed by a trip to Malaysia, and then finally a vendor site visit in Israel.
The trip to Israel is memorable for so many reasons. After 30 hours of travelling, we landed at 3:00 AM at the airport in Tel Aviv. For those who have never been to Israel, the planes do not pull up to the terminal. This is to minimize risk. They stay parked out on the tarmac. You disembark the plane and then you get on a bus to travel the last distance to the terminal.
But not my colleagues and I. No. We had black SUVs with tinted windows, and we were briskly escorted into these vehicles. We were taken to the terminal building into a private room where we were served chilled refreshments while somebody else went to get our bags off the baggage carousel. Then we were whisked through a private lane for immigration and customs and then chauffer driven to our hotel.
After a long couple of days working with the vendor, touring their facilities, seeing their systems and teams in action, the vendor manager insisted they show us some of the other aspects of Israel. My goodness, what an opportunity.
We were collected from our hotel at about 6:30am the next day. There were a group of people from the host vendor. I had met all but one of them on the previous days. Our drivers for the day provided an extensive tour of the country. You may be aware that Israel is geographically not a very large country and so we were able to see a great deal in a single day. We drove past Nazareth, near the border to Jordan and Syria, ate a meal at a Kibbutz.
The part that really has stayed with me though, is the time in Jerusalem. From walking the Old Wall, to visiting the Stations of The Cross, the markets, and the Western Wall (Wailing Wall). It was phenomenal to see the variety of culture and history all in one place. And throughout this memorable day, this once in a lifetime opportunity, it was easy. I just got to soak it all in. I didn’t need to worry about anything except making the most of the experience. It was all taken care of.
Of course, there were multiple security checkpoints at all the places we visited. I was quickly ushered through by one of my hosts. No problem. Crowds of people…there was always a clear pathway for me to follow. No problem. Israel has a very dry climate so you need to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. There was plenty of bottled water to hand, without me needing to find it. No Problem.
One of my hosts, in particular, stayed close by for the entire day. He made sure I was comfortable, I could see what I wanted to see, and made sure I got through the crowds okay. He ensured that I really had the opportunity to enjoy and make the most of this glorious opportunity, to absorb everything that was going on around me.
It was only when we returned to the hotel that I discovered this individual was not one of the hosts from the vendor at all. He was my personal bodyguard for the day. He had been tasked with making sure that I was safe, protected. He was clearing a space for me to enjoy the moment, but also to minimise any risks, and I did not even recognise this was happening.
I did not know he was carrying a gun.
I did not realise that he was there to ensure that nothing bad happened to me, so I could have a great day out. He had my back without me even realising.
Instead, I put my attention on the incredible sights and sounds and experiences of the day, and I am ever grateful for this opportunity.
This happens in our organisations too. There are people who are making sure you are protected, who are minimising the risks to you. People who are creating safe spaces for you, so you can be operating in possibility, and taking the opportunity.
Sometimes it is your team which is doing great work, supporting you, and making sure things get delivered. And they have your back.
Sometimes it is your leader creating safe spaces and removing obstacles. They are clearing the interference so that you have a clear pathway to do the important things more easily. This means you can step into possibility, seize opportunity, and find options to move forward with.
Occasionally, we need to step back and see the big picture. Maybe it is to help others and keep them safe. Maybe it is to say thank you to someone who has been doing this for us.
- Who has your back?
- Who has been protecting you?
- Who do you need to be looking out for?
- What can you do to create more safety, to reduce risk, to open up opportunity by clearing a path for your people?
We all need a moment where we can lead in possibility.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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