The road to redemption part 3

Understanding my own vulnerability has been a key aspect of my development as a person and will continue to be so. I have always wanted to test myself in many different ways to see if I was mentally and physically capable to succeed in any task I was given or had decided to undertake. Our minds have been coded with certain hereditary information/strategies, which help us survive and we develop other mental codes/strategies through our personal development (dependent on how we see the world and our experiences.

I absolutely believe that we have control over both of these systems. I therefore chose whether to give into vulnerability and avoid something that is unpleasant or deal with it and gain a better understanding of that vulnerability and learn to minimize the effect it has on my performance. I have often felt uncomfortable or vulnerable and still do, This is a good place to be because I am going to learn something about myself and get a better understanding of another subject.  We all have vulnerabilities the key is what we do to overcome them.

The majority  of the most successful people I have met are very self-aware, they understand their internal thoughts and feelings.  They are able to ensure that at moments of great anxiety they are able to stay focused, in the zone and control their internal emotions and thoughts in a positive way. Another term that I think is important therefore is the term intellectual humility against intellectual arrogance, knowing there is a limit to our understanding and being open to grow and learn from others.


I left school with no qualifications at 16 yet later went on to attain an Open University  law degree and attain a number of other qualifications.  I wrote a book on “learning to learn” for the Army which is used as pre-reading for every academic course that members of the Army undertakes.  I was asked to do a PhD on a topic that was interesting to me, I believed that I could complete this in three years and became excited by the prospect of starting it. I spent a number of weeks researching and  decided that I would undertake it.  Deep down, though I also had to admit that the title of Dr Woodrow might suit me.  Fortunately a little voice inside my head said, “why are we doing this?”  I paused for a moment to reflect on the reasons that I wanted to undertake this task and realised I was still trying to prove something not only to myself but to other people about my academic ability but for the wrong reasons.  My mind went back to the teacher that told me that I was not very intelligent when I was a seven year old in front of a mathematics class.  This simple limiting thought and some of the events that followed in my education had become a vulnerability. I was trying to prove something to other people about my intellect and having the title Dr would remove this once and for all.

Reality was that the most important person to prove something to, was me.  Once I had balanced this thought, I smiled to myself I felt a burden immediately lift from my shoulders. Especially as I had now started to teach people about removing limiting decisions in their life.

Looking at elite performers the majority are self-contained: they generally  didn’t need approval, praise, recognition or positive feedback. There are public exceptions of course  but these are the minority. The tendency was with some exceptions more successful the less they needed the acclaim, praise or recognition  of others.  On the other hand  there were some  world champions. There’s the great story about Sir Steve Redgrave and Matt Pinsent. who took years to realize that depending on the feedback they got  from their coach they would both respond differently – Matt responded well to positive feedback and Sir Steve was spurred on by negative feedback! Once they had worked it out they went onto intimidate the opposition .And that’s what we have appreciated some of the extraordinarily insightful elite performers know themselves; Like Socrates they know what they know as well as what they don’t know.

A test of my own self-belief and belief in others in an organisation setting  was as one working with reserve soldiers in an operational environment. These were Bank Managers, Barristers, Firemen, Policemen, Postmen. This met initial resistance from many quarters and the viability of the operation  came to a head  at a critical point. ‘We need to sack some of them, they have performed below an acceptable standard, I was told ―’Jim is correct we need to remove some of the leaders, they were diabolical and we are about to deploy with these individuals!. These were just two of the avalanche of negative  statements that were given to me  shortly prior to deployment. These were  comments about reserve soldiers. Many who were deploying for the very first time in defence of their country and all of them would be deploying into the heartland of the enemy. I was preparing them along with a team of  regular soldiers as part of a training team. We had been working hard for three weeks (prior to this they had been selected over a period of six months and were all of a very high standard) and I believed that they were performing well. I left  them for a weekend and let them run their own training for three days. The exercise was low level, I had no doubt that they would perform well. I listened to the feedback from the instructors and indeed if everything was correct they had indeed performed well  below an acceptable standard. One I would not have tolerated had I been there. The advice I was given  was to sack people. Instinctively I knew that this was not the way forward.  I had to rearrange groups because they were not working well. I had to motivate and install confidence in individuals and in the teams.

Two weeks were left  to undertake this and send these groups to extremely dangerous territories with little support on call if they got into difficulties I was going against advice from close colleagues and friends. I  had to make my decision and I spoke with everyone in the team. I have listened to everyone and the approach I am going to take is not what you want.

I am not going to sack anyone but I am going to rearrange the teams and I am going to undertake a de-brief with the teams and then change the training around for the final two weeks. There was a silence, fortunately I had worked closely with these individuals for a long time and one of my closest friends said the following.― I do not agree with you Floyd but I trust you and will go with it for now‖. The consensus from everyone else was somewhat similar. I proceeded to the de-brief and spoke with the 87 people in the room.

Six months later we returned. Every one of the instructors spoke with me and there had been a turnaround in their view. They told me they now agreed with my approach. They would be proud to work with these individuals in a regular unit. The Teams performed well above the standard expected and were considered an elite organization throughout their deployment. How did I know what to do? I knew what to do, but I didn‘t know all the answers. My sense is that demonstrating belief and commitment in them as well as levelling with them as to where they were and what they needed to do helped. I had high expectations but it was more than Pygmalion in management revisited. The punch line of much beloved Pygmalion research  after a classic Harvard Business review article is that the performance of the target (subordinate, child or pupil) tends to adjust up or down to the powerful other’s (boss’s, parent’s or teacher’s) expectations. But more than that as  well as raising expectations, my reputation and their lives were potentially on the line we also focused on actions to improve. But certainly without believing in them and giving them the ability to perform and test themselves  they would not have got on the plane.

Did I feel vulnerable only slightly my faith was never in doubt and to their credit the volunteers were open to their limitations and poor performance. They had enough self-confidence not to crumble at our seemingly harsh feedback  but had the humility to earn respect and responded positively to the challenge.

The Importance of being Optimistic

Optimists are energising givers of energy rather than takers of it. They live by Shakespears philosophy Mirth and merrimentbars a thousand harms and lengthens life” Often they are humorous. They might have reasons to be cheerful but  not all are  cheerful. Research shows that positive emotions serve a buffering function and provide a useful antidote to the problems associated with negative emotions and ill health.  Laughter as the Readers Digest say  is good medicine. Laughter generates increases in positive emotion and produces self-reported improvements in immune system functioning  Importantly, the effect of laughter on the self-reports of immune system functioning is mediated by subjective experiences of positive emotion, especially for older adults This suggests that positive emotions produced by the behavior of laughing may be important in predicting healthy outcomes for the immune system. What do think of when it comes to effective teams?  –For me it’s banter. It kept us going through the hard times

.As Polar explorer Shackleton  defined it  ̳ Optimism is high moral courage.‘ In that sense underlying courage is optimism that allows a person to dream an impossible dream or to pursue an improbable goal. It involves a willingness and determination to deal with great difficulties and radiate confidence. One of the themes in the surviving diaries kept by several men during the Endurance expedition was the remarkable constancy of Shackleton‘s positive outlook and the courage and strength which his men drew from it. These men wanted to follow Shackleton because he lived the words? As expert Warren Bennis has noted  ̳all exemplary leaders are purveyors of hope and optimism.‘ This isn‘t far removed from Colin Powell‘s view derived from Napoleon that the moral is to the physical as three is to one that perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.


And being and staying positive is paramount when it comes to elite performance. Not to put a finer point it pays in life, business and sport to be positive. Psychologists have identified one of the key  factors that make someone resilient, as a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to perceive failure as a form of helpful feedback. Low scores on optimism has been shown to influence physical and psychological well-being. in a variety of areas.  In the course of the research amongst elite performers there were two pessimists. One had been seriously injured and consequently her Olympic hopes had been dashed, the other had after tremendous success had a roller coaster career as coach.

Optimism as part of  a positive mental attitude, as a massive  component of core resilience. It’s a quality shared by elite performers from all areas. Just consider  how many  successful entrepreneurs  demonstrate the occasionally overpowering optimism. In that respect they are   very similar to top athletes.

By having a positive  always look on the bright side  opportunistic  outlook, such individuals are more likely to  have a greater number of seemingly serendipitous encounters with good fortune. They are also more likely to deal with setbacks because they always believe in the potential for better.  They swiftly  move on from failure, critics and criticism. Richard Olivier coming  from a different perspective concerned with developing inspirational  leadership using Shakespeare   quotes a phrase to sum up the optimistic attitude from writer Henry David Thoreau,’’it it is better to light a candle, than curse the darkness’’ The critics and you will face either covert or overt  critics prefer to curse the darkness, it’s an occupational demand, and if there’s no darkness he suggests  they’ll have a go at your candle. And failure for such  backfoot  critics bemoaning the loss of a golden age, locked in the past when things were better will be negative. David Stirling faced many critics  after his astounding early successes  It didn’t help he commanded many missions in person, returning from the desert to deal with the paperwork and fight off the staff officers in HQ whom he described as ‘fossilised shit’.

Life’s to short  to dwell on the past  is the optimistic  attitude to setbacks. Sir Edmond Hillary epitomises the approach, and coincidentally his hero was Shackleton. He led  an expedition, titled “Ocean to Sky”, from the mouth of the Ganges to its source. A boat was destroyed – his response  why make a fuss over something that’s done anyway? I was never one to obsess about the past. Life’s a bit like mountaineering – never look down. Similarly American frontiersman Daniel Boone epitomizes the optimistic reaction when was once asked by a reporter if he had ever been lost in the wilderness. Boone thought for a moment and replied, “No, but I was once bewildered for about three days’.  We are in charge of our minds and therefore mine will remain postive and confident.  If I can’t control that who can?

I am now back in Dubai looking to close off a number of projects. one of which is close to my heart and will involve the setting up of a recruitement and resettlement department within Britam.  We are just putting together the final elements and then we are going live.

I had a wonderful squash match against an opponent who then paid for the most delightful dinner in Mayfair.  Although I lost to my son 10-9 in the deciding set the next day which was an epic match and only the third time he has one.

I am working with numerous sports at the moment which is exilerating and I continue to learn lots.

Have a wonderful weekend

1 thought on “The road to redemption part 3

  1. Floyd, I enjoy this blog. Something in this entry compels me to comment; your point regarding recognition of one’s vulnerabilities. I remember being ridiculed by the school careers advisor (long memory, eh?), when I said I wanted to join the police; later, I wasted my opportunity at university, barely gaining my degree in a subject I had no profound interest in. (word of caution; I did meet my wife there, so on the whole a positive experience). It was only when I joined the adult world of the police service that I gradually came to an accurate appreciation of my potential – and my weaknesses. You know how that works, tough/supportive feedback: accept it, adjust and grow – or get out. I did return to academic study later, because I wanted to do it, both through interest and self challenge. Success leads to success… self awareness protects against hubris, but that can be a hard lesson in itself.


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