Red Deckchairs

I’ve blogged before the about things I learned from my Father about work and leadership.

When I changed jobs a little while back, he gave me some advice. He told me to leave my deckchairs at home.

It’s a leadership story of his that I quite like, and it goes a little like this.

I’ve got a red deckchair. When I go to the seaside I take my red deckchair with me. I’ve had it for years and I like it. It is comfortable to sit in. When I get to the seaside, I take it to my favourite spot; I set it up and there I sit. I strongly advise you don’t try and sit in my deckchair for it is mine and I like it. One day, I went to a different seaside. I took that deckchair with me. I tucked it under my arm, I got it out and put it right up, even though all the other deckchairs at that seaside were blue. I don’t like blue deckchairs. So I suggested that everyone else put away their blue deckchairs. Because I want them to have red ones. I pushed and persuaded and persisted until everyone else had a red deckchair too.

I think he is talking about habit, and the comfort of having things just how we like them, just how we are used to them. I think he is talking about how easy it is to turn up somewhere new and set up your red deckchairs, and sod the existing blue ones, without even realising it. I think he is also talking about imposing and impatience. About not listening. About the arrogance of the I know best.

Maybe when you turn up somewhere new, those blue deckchairs that you find there are old. Maybe those blue deckchairs are broken. Perhaps a red one would be better. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe the blue deckchairs are just right, for that place. Maybe what’s needed is a mixture of the two, or a whole new colour. Later. When you have assessed. When you have considered, listened, learned.

Do you have a red deckchair?

Is it comfortable?

4 thoughts on “Red Deckchairs

  1. Many moons ago, I had a six month appraisal which was very thoughtfully prepared and executed. I didn’t like my new boss very much and was surprised at the time he had taken and the insights he offered. I remember him saying at the end of a very encouraging reflection; “one thing Meg, sometimes I wonder if you are somehow still there, rather than here, and they are two different places, we can’t be like there”.

    What are we if we are not our experiences, our lessons learned, our stories? His observation landed, so gently put, and helped me see how attached I was to my past and trying to make the present fit into a past shaped gap. It was really helpful, and I think I must have been doing a lot of “at x we did y”. It’s forgivable, normal and – can be gently, respectfully shifted by honesty.

    Where it all went is another story, because the past sort of became the future.

    I like your Dad’s story Gemma; it leaves me with question about how we identify what different needs might be when someone takes up a new role, new company, new reporting relationship.

    • Hi Meg, thank you for the comments. I think there is a balance to be struck – making the best use of your experiences whilst not ignoring the new context. I know I fail at striking this balance sometimes.
      There is also an interesting link here to how we recruit – we work on the basis that past experience predicts future success. That is why we ask competency based questions – ‘tell me, when in your current role you have done X’ for example. But past success does not always mean good future performance (whole other blog brewing on this topic). This competency approach could just lead us into thinking that you have to repeat what you did before?

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