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Liveryman Ian Lawson

"What makes an Outstanding Leader?"

What does it take to be an Outstanding Leader: "They are motivated to achieve excellence, but they understand that they cannot create this on their own. They adopt a coaching style of leadership to develop confidence and capability in others; they don’t tell people what to do, but instead encourage them to come up with solutions… they look at what went well and how success can be replicated and improved upon…. [they] are authentic to their leadership role".

These words were not only written by Ian but also describe what motivated him, to live as an authentic, outstanding leader. His life’s campaign was to endeavour to improve leadership. He was passionate about making a difference, recognising that not everyone would engage with the programmes but focusing on those for whom he could make difference. He told the story of two people walking down a beach where the shoreline is littered with thousands of starfish drying in the sun. One person bends down, picks up a starfish and throws it back into the sea.  “Why bother?” says the other, “there are thousands of starfish and you can’t help them all.” “I made a difference to that one.” is the reply.

No matter how early the hour, how far from home, how terrible the weather or the trains or planes, that was what kept him going, the passion to make a difference.  His sudden death due to a heart attack on Saturday 17th February has shocked those who knew and loved him.  And after 35 years delivering leadership programmes ‘those’ number many thousands. 

Ian was born in Aberdeen in a military family and travelled the world before settling in Felixstowe as a youth and eventually East Anglia.  Ian spent 26 years at The Work Foundation (previously known as the Industrial Society). He led the flagship Runge Effective Leadership Programme for many years, and also established The Campaign for Leadership to promote ‘Liberating Leadership’ throughout the world of work which developed an active alumni of over 3000 leaders.

He started his own company, Leadership Works, in 2010 and with his colleagues, Maggie Smith and Peter Wall, founded Towards Outstanding Leadership providing Outstanding Leadership programmes based on powerful research. He had a wide range of executive coaching and development activities and worked with many organisations including Ipsos-MORI, London Business School, RNIB, MOD, the Directory of Social Change and as a co-leader of the leadership practice at the Cass Business School Centre for Charity Effectiveness.

He wrote four books about leadership and aspects of management, was on the editorial board of The International Journal for Leadership in Public Services and was a Chairman of the advisory board of the Army Recruitment and Training Division Staff Leadership School.

Ian taught by example, often calling on stories from his own life to illustrate how even he was not perfect, or perhaps he would prefer, ‘human’ rather than ‘not perfect’!  It was this warmth and the attention he brought to his relationships which is making his death so deeply felt by so many, each of whom will be remembering their own favourite Ian story. Most of the stories are humorous so that it is hard to remember him without smiling.

Ian was a regular attendee at Company events, most recently at the 2018 Charity Supper and as ever accompanied by his effervescent wife, Olga. Ian’s death is also mourned by his children Sarah, Richard and Chris, their mother Ruth, and grandchildren Zach and Freya.  

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends as they mourn his loss but it is a measure of his success in how he lived his life that his colleagues have been able to continue this week with ‘confidence and capability’ in endeavouring to sustain his legacy.