Learning about leadership

Interview: Tim Bradshaw, former spy

Driven to communicate: Tim Bradshaw (Photo by Terry Murden)
Driven to communicate: Tim Bradshaw (Photo by Terry Murden)

The spy who leads me

He has dodged bullets, evaded capture, even survived an earthquake. When it comes to understanding hostile environments, Tim Bradshaw is your man.

As Captain Bradshaw, he spent five years as an intelligence officer – a spy to you and me – serving the British army in a number of conflict zones. His job involved infiltrating the enemy and developing contacts with informers.

In his spare time he is a regular sort of guy who gives ski-ing lessons, climbs mountains, para-glides and flies helicopters.

But before anyone gets carried away with the all-action James Bond comparison, most of the time his job was about research, rapport and building trust, rather than fist fights and car chases.

“I was armed, of course, but the reality is that if you have to resort to car chases and shooting then you’ve failed,” he says.

“Yes, I’ve been shot at. Someone tried to kill me and my patrol in Helmand Province. We were targeted by Taliban insurgents.”

While his Sandhurst training helped him cope with fear and danger the whole army experience gave him something else: an understanding of conflict and human interaction.

Since leaving the army with the rank of Major 18 months ago Bradshaw has applied what he learned about communication and negotiation to more civilised environments. He has launched a company delivering leadership courses and seminars and has teamed up with a retired international businessman and a former army colleague to form the Sandstone Partnership. Bradshaw will be presenting its inaugural event to members of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce next month.

We meet first in the restaurant at Harvey Nichols and he is easy to spot among the denim clad tourists and ladies-who-lunch. He’s wearing a three-piece suit and tie, with Union flag cuff-links, the army’s scrupulous attention to presentation and his loyalty to Queen and country still in evidence.

Later we’re doing a photoshoot at an appropriate venue: the Aston Martin dealership at Bankside. Bradshaw has not been

Dealing with quality photo by Terry Murden)
Dealing with quality (photo by Terry Murden)

slow to sign up big names for his lectures and he has developed a relationship with the company that will no doubt add a touch of glamour and a few more bookings to the attendance list wherever he speaks. He has booked Billy Connolly’s former 12-bed mansion Candacraig House, near Balmoral, for a series of lectures and is hoping to persuade Aston Martin to work with him.

Bradshaw’s theme is collaboration and how to achieve influence in any business situation. He believes that one of the secrets to good communication is to focus on intelligence, not information.

“We live in a world with so much information at our fingertips. We have to pull out what is relevant to us. What is there in all this information that will really makes things better?”

He refers to negotiating via what he calls “3D listening”, or taking in more than what someone says.

“I listen and watch. I try to understand something about the person from what they wear, what items are on their desk.”

It all comes from being trained to monitor those who might initially be unfriendly, but in the long run can prove to be useful. Bradshaw says the same applies in business as it does to military situations.

“You may be facing hostility in the workplace, or from rivals or difficult customers. How you deal with them is not much different to dealing with an enemy who wants to do you physical harm,” he says.

His programme takes his listeners through negotiation presentation, negotiation, collaboration, confrontation. On the way he deals with customer relationships, coping with different values and beliefs.

One thing he learned from his experience in places such as Afghanistan was how the west tries to see the conflict from its point of view, its beliefs and even its geography.

“The locals don’t necessarily recognise borders, morality and tribal behaviour in the same way that we do. We can’t just impose our beliefs on them,” he says. “Of course, we go into these situations believing we have God on our side, that we’re fighting for Queen and country and all that, but we also have to learn what the local people want as well as what we want.”

He applies these practical and ethical considerations to business, not least to those who deal with customers and business partners in other territories.

At its simplest, he says his programme is designed to make people get more from dealing with others internally and externally.

“If people take something out of it and are able to do something better than they did before then it has worked,” he says.

Breakfast with a former spy: secrets of business communication, 13 September (contact Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce)

Tim Bradshaw headshotPERSONAL CHECKLIST

Birthplace: Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. Grew up in the Cotswolds

Age: 40

Education: Kings’s School, Worcester, Sandhurst

Career: Joined the Army Air Corp in 1995. Worked in intelligence.

How did you come to be in Scotland?

My partner works for Royal Bank of Scotland

Where did you escape the earthquake?

I was part of a six-man mission to Mount Everest when the quake struck last year.

Do you enjoy or dislike being asked about James Bond?

I’m a massive James Bond fan. As a brand it is pretty impressive. It stands for the sort of things we want Sandstone to evolve into.

Quirky army story?

Intelligence was always referred to as “Other Government Department”. If you look closely at the Casino Royale film one of the cars has OGD on its number plate. It’s a nice touch.

What do you drive?

A Mercedes E350

Not bad. But not an Aston Martin.

I would love to own one.








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