Lots of interesting things have occurred over the last week and in most cases I am constantly dealing with extremes. Whether that is looking at Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration procedures to working with a girls Netball teams and from international sports to presenting at a boxing evening.
I have recently been involved with a team preparing for the Olympics and they have finished stage one of their trials and are now putting the finishing touches to the core team, which will also be supported by a number of extended teams.
They have produced a game plan for the next few months and working with them to ensure that they are clear on the behaviours that are required to deliver it has been excellent and inspirational.
It is so nice to be in an environment where we can challenge one another and everyone knows that we are doing this to achieve numerous Gold medals (the teams result) and we do not let our ego’s get in the way.
I have also been involved with teams looking at the safety and security of the Olympic games and this has also been challenging. It is so important that people who are going to work in tough and challenging environments understand how to perform at their best. The only way this occurs is to be taught what we need to do, then put in pressure situations to test our understanding and then tested prior to the event.
I have recently spent two days working with the international Scottish Rugby Team prior to their match against Italy. The leadership/coaching environment is excellent and there is a clear “pursuit of excellence” mentality. The team are developing a very challenging and demanding game plan to get back to being a force in World Rugby. They are also adopting the philosophy of clear accountability amongst the whole team and this will bode well for the future.
The nature of sport can be unforgiving and watching the match on Saturday brought home to me how I hate to lose. The good thing about knowing your current start point though is that now we are all clear on what needs to be done to improve over the next few months.
This is also where leadership gets tested the most. So many times when things do not go according to the game plan we decide to change everything when we actually only need to stick to the game plan but ensure that the team delivers to the correct standard.
Over the last week I have worked with leaders in sports/govt/business/military and also a number of people from different countries.
Leaders in each of those areas bring a “unique combination of seeing opportunity where others only see risk. They have optimism and believe that they can succeed despite the fact that everyone else is telling them that they cannot.’’ What these leaders have in common is that they are molded by the courage of their convictions. They have the experience, often serving an apprenticeship or conforming to Gladwell’s 10,000 training hours and are able to minimise risks in taking a leap of faith and seeing or sensing danger and having strategies to deal with it. Above all they have energy and are energising. That is not to say that they do not have self-doubt or fears it is just that they are able to minimise the effect it has on them and those around them. (The key characteristic of the 10,000 hours is that it is quality training practice does not just make perfect it makes permanent and if we have practiced the wrong skills it takes time to realign them).
(Someone once said to me “Floyd you are good at everything you do which is why these things are easy for you to do”. What they did not see is that I am actually not that good at most things but I will practice until I become so. It is why I believe there is possibility in everyone I see).
Another shared characteristic is focus, they have the ability to stay in the zone – sports/military and business people need to be single minded – and have persistence. There is a need to be driven strongly towards achievement and has a compelling vision. That’s not hugely different from somebody who is going to the Olympics this year – they have operated in a four-year cycle. Entrepreneurs too might dream about being successful, but they must have the ability to see the bigger picture and operationalize their vision. You don’t need to delve into the detail to assume that these people are savvy and streetwise – leaders learn from their failures as much as their successes.
Think how young many soldiers, sports people and entrepreneurs are when they are under the spotlight and have to make decisions under enormous pressure. Sure they make mistakes under inevitable scrutiny, but most bounce back. That’s not too dissimilar to one award winning business person who said it took 29 business plans before he succeeded. The successful entrepreneur is someone able to get up again and again when knocked back as is the soldier. The same might be said of those wanting to succeed at any elite level. After victory or defeat they are invariably and robotically ‘control alt delete’ style or press the reset button, let’s ‘move on.‘
There is a mythical quality associated with leadership. They go to the edge of who they are and what they imagine themselves to be. These are modern heroes who on their journey take talent to the limit, yet keep their eye on the prize or ball. In so doing adversity and failure become learning experiences, setbacks, the earlier the better, to shape their success. Usually they are receptive and strong experiential learners generally with remarkable levels of humility. Finally they take measured risks – pushing themselves and their businesses to the limits. They are like Economist Schumpeter’s classical definition of entrepreneurs those ‘who create at the point of their own self destruction’. Admittedly like entrepreneurs and CEO’s, military men and sports stars can be selfish with their time and energy. Both sports people and entrepreneurs have their vision, goals, and priorities and rarely allow themselves to be distracted by others priorities or expectations with a laser focus as they zero in on success. They are self-motivated rather than motivated by praise or the need for adulation. They pursue their own objectives rather than trying to fit them around the objectives of others.
One of my inspirations (I will talk about mentors on another occasion) is Alexander the Great who. Mentos means “intent, purpose, spirit, passion, one who thinks, one who admonishes” Alexander was of course mentored by Aristotle who even wrote a shortened edition of the Iliad, which Alexander always kept with him. The Wisdom of Alexander the Great by Lance Kurke reveals four leadership processes distilled from the accomplishments of Alexander. He reframed problems in order to meet seemingly insurmountable challenges often the solution was to redefine the situation and act in accordance with the newly reconstructed reality. He built alliances by using his strength to generate trust and respect, not just fear. He established identity and ‘branded’ himself a unifier, thus keeping the home base secure while continuing to expand his empire. He also recognized and assimilated the cultures and symbols of different peoples, becoming a powerful and trusted figure everywhere he went (he epitomized self/team/organizational and global leadership).
Naturally Alexander the Great epitomized how leadership can create a psychologically resilient force and was considered a heroic leader. He could combine a vast knowledge of historical battles with an understanding of his foes. There was a bit of natural psychologist to Alexander. He lived always led from the front in combat. His men knew that he lived no better than they did, woke earlier, worried worse and suffered wounds more frequently than any of them. He motivated his men in combat by enduring the same hardships as them. Trained by Aristotle as a doctor he personally attended to the wounds of his soldiers and was wounded eight times in combat; four slight, three serious and one nearly fatal. As Oliver Stone says Alexander is remembered for 2500 years. – he’s the youngest man ever to take over the world; but he’s remembered for his generosity. There was a special quality and compassion – he cried for his soldiers on the battlefield. His last words were in response to who would inherit the world from him, “To the Strongest”. ‘Why do I like Alexander- he was always there with his soldiers he was in the thick of it,’ ‘He fought from the front. He was very young, focused and courageous.
There are lots of benefits for the men around you who will fight longer and harder if they see you involved but your position in the battle is critical you must remain predominately at the strategic level and only drop down to other levels if it is critical. Then you have that extra element of realization that the person that’s leading is fighting harder and tougher than I am and he also knows where to lead us, therefore I am going to be alongside him. Alexander was both ruthless and compassionate. He had the balance between the two. Alexander was inclusive, – he built an empire on commerce and trade. And he created that in his wake – he trusted the locals and included them in his army.
‘He was pragmatic as he was leaving conquered towns he left people in power – He burned ships, and cut losses. When Alexander the Great arrived on the shores of Persia his army was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Yet he ordered to his men to burn the boats.’ As their only means of retreat went up in flames, legend has it that Alexander turned to his men and said, “We go home in Persian ships, or we die”. What followed was an astounding victory. Then when Alexander wanted to invade India, his soldiers were so burdened with booty that they moved slowly. One day, at dawn, after all of the wagons were loaded, Alexander set fire to his own and to those of his friends. Then he commanded the rest of the army to burn their wagons too so that they could be warriors again.’ (I’ve actually got a very old limited edition book of Alexander the Great in my office).
Warren Bennis books on leadership have sold over a million copies. When he pondered his own journey through life and the lessons he’d learned, he openly reflected upon his personal struggles — not as a teacher of leadership but as a practitioner of leadership — when he was the president of the University of Cincinnati. As he was speaking to a university audience in his presidential role, one of his friends in the room unexpectedly asked: “Do you love what you do?” A long, awkward silence filled the room as he pondered the question. As a president, he searched for the right answer, but as a human, he wanted the real answer. Finally, in a quiet voice, he replied, “I don’t know.” That revelation plunged Bennis into deep reflection. It dramatically altered his path through life. Do you love what you do? For Bennis this may be the seminal question of our age. In yesterday’s world, where professionals worked 40 hours a week and took four weeks of vacation, this question was important, but not nearly as important as it is today if you don’t love what you do — it can be a kind of new-age professional hell. We can be wasting our lives waiting for a break that never comes. ‘My love for my job has been a constant theme in my life.
When there are moments of difficulty, struggle or doubters I always remind myself that I would do most of the things I am currently employed to do or have been employed to do for free.
Friday I spoke at a very large conference and what was nice about this event was that the team were very clear on what they wanted to achieve and more importantly they had the correct platforms in place to deliver them. However the next element is that people once again deliver their part in the plan. There is a price to pay for success.
The weekend also saw me asked to present some prizes at a boxing event. There were 13 bouts of the highest quality and one bout with two girls that stole the show. To see a room of 400 people including 300 men spellbound by the skill and athleticism of the two girls was something to behold. Who say’s women’s sport is boring.
My daughters birthday took place this week. She is my youngest and 18 years of age. The day she was born I was working in Bosnia. It brought back numerous memories of that period. I will write a blog on negotiating in the coming weeks. Working there was to develop and test that skill to its limits. The only problem with learning the skill is that my daughter still constantly reminds me that I was not there on her birthday and that I need to make it up to her.
Mother’s day is such an important event. I am inspired by my mother who is still a force of nature. She is the one that drove a performance first attitude in all of us as children and still maintains that mantra despite any adversity.
Anyway have a wonderful week ahead.