LEAD: 50 models for success in work & life (published by Capstone) launched in late September and became an immediate best-seller. Authors John Greenway, Andy Blacknell and Andy Coombe draw upon the story of Andrew O’Shaughnessy to tee-up the whole book. The following truncated extract introduces the reader to the concept of “zigzag leadership”.

‘Hey Andrew’, said the voice on the phone, ‘It’s your father. You need to come home. We’re closing the business.’

Andrew O’Shaughnessy’s world was rocked to the core. Away studying business strategy, his life had been planned for the day when he would take over the family woolen mill in Dripsey, a small village in rural Ireland. His father, his grandfather and his great grandfather had laid the pathway for him. They were proud to supply the best outlets in London, New York, Paris and Milan. And now it was all falling apart around his ears.

Andrew jumped on the first plane home and begged for one last chance to save the mill. He met with each of the 88 workers and set out the bare facts. Like him, they and their forebears had worked in the mill for generations.

Someone must have an idea.

Andrew held his head in his hands. An old hand approached him. ‘We’ve never been asked for our ideas before. We didn’t think it was our place. We’ve done what you and your family have asked us to do. We’re used to you having the answers, not us.’

No-one had expected this.

So 88 good people lost their jobs, 88 families their livelihoods. Many of them would never work again. They had no other skills, no other options. This was their life. It was too late to change.

Andrew swore he would never again put himself in the position of being responsible for the loss of so many livelihoods. So he moved to London and, for the best part of a decade, drifted from one freelance role to another.

Convinced finally that it must be possible to be successful and still treat people well, the prodigal returned to his Irish home ready to start a new business. His small start-up tech business was situated in a business park where Amazon, Apple and Dell EMC were among his neighbours.

Fast-forward another decade, and once again Andrew held his head in his hands.

He had employed Sinead for a year, and thought he knew her well. She had just come up with a brilliant solution that would save the business. But why had she waited so long to offer her thoughts?

‘I didn’t think it was my place’, she explained.

It was a bombshell. Andrew couldn’t believe that 20 years after he’d closed down his family business in Ireland, history seemed destined to repeat itself.

Despite his best efforts, had he recreated the disastrous ‘them and us’, paternalistic culture of the family woollen mill? But for Sinead’s intervention, the company might have gone bust. He had to go back to the drawing board and think again.

Another ten years on, and Andrew O’Shaughnessy now leads Poppulo, with a crystal clear vision – ‘to make companies great by releasing the power of their people’.

The journey has had many twists and turns. From email marketing to internal staff communications, Poppulo now aims to lead the field in staff engagement across America and Europe. Their numbers keep growing.

Zigzag Leadership

Consider Andrew’s story. Look at your own story. Look where you are, and trace the path you took getting here. Could you have predicted where you are now 20 years ago? Or ten? Or even one year ago?

Life is not a straight line.

Illustration by Visual Thinkery

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