A Life of Bosses and Bossing – Leadership Lessons #33 #cong21


Sometime the best leadership lessons come from observing how your past bosses treated you and how you responded as a leader in different environments.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Leadership changes according to different environments and challenges
  2. You can have multiple leadership styles
  3. You must respond to what achieves the best outcome
  4. Followers can dictate your leadership style

About Billy Kennedy

Retired claims inspector and mechanic.  Proud father and grandfather.  Late adopter of technology and ever curious mind.

Contacting Billy Kennedy

Apparently I am on lots of social media platforms courtesy of my family but probably best to email me.

You might also find me on TikTok as the TikTok Grandad.

By Billy Kennedy

Having spent over 50 years in the workforce I have always been interested in how my own leadership style and that of my different bosses were influenced by a range of internal factors (mainly personality driven) and external actors.  Almost a nature nurture debate but with a heavy hand of influence from culture, circumstance and organisational structure.  Let me walk you through some of the positions I held and my observations on leadership.

At 14 years old, as an agri-mechanic apprentice I saw at once that one or two of the tradesmen had the ability to pass on the information they had to us eager learners.  This was natural not learned leadership.  Their instinctive communication abilities and willingness to share meant they earned our loyalty and brought through talent.  Due to their guidance I achieved the silver medal in Garage Practice in Ireland.

Leadership Lessons

  • Communication is crucial
  • True leaders nurture talent
  • Natural leaders are a magnet for followers

At 21 I was offered a job managing a large city centre car garage.  I had a staff of 15-20 which without any formal managerial or leadership training was daunting.  However at that youthful age, full of optimism and can do attitude I gave it two years but Ireland at that time treasured permanent and pensionable jobs rather than commercially driven entrepreneurial jobs.

Leadership Lessons

  • Overtly commercial environment can clash with internal leadership ethos
  • Motivated by money and fear instructions were followed by staff
  • Management and leadership are vastly different worlds

At 23 I joined Dublin Corporation (the corpo) as a fitter and in time was promoted to foreman with 10-15 staff in my section.  We were responsible for maintaining diesel engines for heavy trucks and machines – a tough working environment.  This cultivated a very unique culture.  Yes instructions and work orders were implemented but without their respect all sorts of spanners (if you forgive the pun) could be thrown into the works.  Leaders or more correctly managerial edicts from the office rarely had the same impact of being in the trenches or more accurately covered in oil in the mechanic sumps.

Leadership Lessons

  • Leading by doing in some environments is essential
  • Culture and follower/staff influence can dictate leadership styles
  • ‘One of the Lads’ and ‘Pragmatic’ Leadership should be branded as a type of leadership
  • Leadership stripes earned elsewhere can leap frog promotion

At age 30 I was promoted to inspector in the handling of claims for damage to machines or property under what was known at the time as the ‘Criminal Injuries Act’ or ‘Malicious Damage Claims’.  Strange as it might appear now Dublin Corporation would pay for criminal damage cause to property, which all had to be checked, verified and challenged if necessary.  As such I had to learn to work alone, becoming my own boss. This job eventually changed to investigating Public Liability claims under the Irish Public Bodies Institute and the internal audit section of Dublin Corporation.  In this role I witness a good few different bosses with different leadership styles.  However what they all had in common was they needed the inspectors (I was one of many) to be able to work autonomously and be able to make decisions (some of which has very big financial implications).  They also had to guide teams of very senior legal experts.   This translated itself in building deep relationships, establishing trust and supporting rather than dictating and micro-managing.  Indeed with my last ‘boss’ he made it clear he would not second guess decisions, valued judgement and was completely task orientated – i.e. he did not care how we spent our time as he had faith that the job would be done to our best ability.

Leadership Lessons

  • Jobs that demand antimonious decision making need inspiring, trust building, lead by example and hands off leaders
  • Trust builds loyalty which leads to more productivity
  • Unbossed Leadership has many past incarnations
  • Relationships can be fragile and trust once broken can be hard to revive

From 1962 to 2003 I served in the Civil Defence as a volunteer and officer eventually reaching the rank of commander.  In this capacity I was called up in 1972 to help with a crisis that is largely forgotten today.  In one week alone over 48,000 refugees left northern Ireland due to the increasing troubles and were housed in camps outside Dublin.  This created a large logistical challenge and I found myself in charge of all transport, which not only covered Civil Defence vehicles but also the Order of Malta and Red Cross.  This was a military environment.  Orders were expected to be carried out but had to be explicit with no room for interpretation.  Relationships were still important but trumped by chain of command and hierarchy, with each level (rank) knowing their place.

Leadership Lessons

  • In this world instructions were given with the full belief they would be implemented and followed – in effect orders.


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