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Leadership, the Army and the 2012 Olympics

ILM Fellow and British Army Officer, Leona Barr-Jones has carved a successful career for herself since leaving the regular army in 2011 after 21 years service. She now balances a continued career in the Army Reserve with running Barr-Jones Associates, an award winning collaborative consultancy firm. Here, she talks to Edge about how her army leadership training proved vital when she was involved in planning transport logistics for the Olympics 2012

Leadership is the lifeblood of the British Army and underpins the people element of any operation in the military or business, innovating and shaping values and behaviours to ensure that an organisation performs well. The relationship between command, leadership and management is often blurred and some see management as the business of resources, and leadership as the source of vision. Management can also be considered as taking people in a direction that they would follow naturally in an organised manner and leadership as inspiring people to take a step outside their comfort zone. People’s comfort zones can be severely challenged when in a stressed environment and the circumstances in which soldiers operate are among the most stressful found anywhere, whether war fighting, peacekeeping or in training.

It was not long after leaving the regular Army that I became involved in another highly stressful environment when I was asked to lead the Surface Transport Olympic Operational Readiness and Testing Programme for Transport for London (TfL).  

My role as programme manager was to bring together, make ready and operationally test all the different projects and plans, which made up the Surface Transport Games Time Programme. This was one programme that simply could not slip. The task was huge - I was working closely with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) towards the twin objectives of supporting a great Games and keeping London moving and open for business.

My readiness and testing programme involved running checks on plans for roads, traffic, signals, buses, river services, taxi and private hire to ensure that everything ran smoothly and key routes were not overwhelmed by numbers of people arriving and leaving the Games. TfL had to design and install an Olympic and Paralympic road route network to ensure the athletes, officials, media and others could reach venues reliably. The physical measures, signage and traffic signals changes were a huge exercise and for the first Games ever, no athletes or officials were delayed reaching their events, so the project was a great success.

Once the readiness and testing programme was complete, we stepped into the operational delivery roles and I was asked to be an operational manager for Central London. We had set up an operational events control room where we worked long hours managing road closures and stewarding routes to and from venues for multiple events including beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade, The Mall for all road events, Hyde Park for the triathlon and swims and also the Live Nation Concerts at Hyde Park.

It was fantastic to be an operational commander again and I nearly came to work in my combats, especially when Mayor of London, Boris Johnson popped his head in to say well done to the team! 

I was delighted when some of the scenarios I had pressure tested during readiness came up and were dealt with efficiently by the team, who took them in their stride and they finally understood the Army phrase “Train Hard Fight Easy!”  That Army training and unflappability proved vital during the huge challenge of the moving beast that was the Olympic Torch cavalcade as it came into Central London and the sheer numbers as one million people turned up to watch the cycle road race. It was my experience on operations in Bosnia that came in handy for me when some rather unusual events unfolded as we watched on CCTV as a helicopter landed unannounced in Central London and even more so when a man thought to be armed with a gun ran down Park Lane and jumped on a No 10 bus! 

For me, the key transferable skill from my Army leadership training to my roles as olympic programme and operational manager was the ability to actually make a decision quickly. The military environment often demands decisions to be made in the moment with novel and agile thinking required to unpick that complex ‘wicked’ problem. 

Napoleon said “Nothing is more difficult and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide” 

To find out more about Barr Jones Associates, please visit www.barrjonesassociates.com or call Leona on  01462 790549 


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