I recently read a brilliant book about Leadership (details below). It was written by a young guy who, aged 28, suddenly realised he’d better learn how to become a great leader really fast. As a professional sailor he set himself the goal of skippering a yacht in a round the world yacht race with an amateur crew. His team would total 45 people, with 18 on the boat at any one time.
I thought the book was brilliant because:
- he’s totally honest about himself, what he’s naturally talented at and what comes less easily
- it becomes abundantly clear that this honesty, when he really worked on his leadership skills and acknowledged his limitations, earned huge respect and commitment from the team, and this was hugely important when the chips were down. As they were on a number of occasions.
- it’s about ocean racing; in fact it’s about an ocean yacht race in which I have participated as crew a few years ago, so I could recognise every situation, every problem and every set of options he faced.
I got so gripped by the story and by the application to business that I read the whole thing in one evening. There are many things to learn from Brendan’s book, but here are the key ones that I took away:
- first, Brendan did his research, and spoke to lots of people who had previous experience of leading a disparate team of people, all different individuals. What he learned surprise him. He’d expected that the keys to victory would be technical things, getting sail changes and weather routing as crisp as possible; in fact everyone he spoke to told him that this would be only 20% of what he needed to be good at. The other 80%, the really important stuff, was going to be how he lead the team and what level of performance he would get from them day after day, night after night, in some pretty tough conditions, at sea for weeks at a time.
- second, he was prepared to recognise his own strengths and limitations. More than that he worked out what he would do reduce the negative impact of his limitations, building some new (perhaps uncomfortable) habits which wold force him to act in a way that would help the team.
- third, he recognised that we are all human and that we can all get things wrong. He made some poor decisions, one or two of them dangerous. That doesn’t make us a bad person, and in fact he gained huge respect for being honest and then getting back on the horse of the new habits.
- fourth, the 80% was right. Even though he was the youngest and least experienced skipper out of 10, racing identical boats so there is no performance advantage in the boat itself, he won the yacht race because his was the best performing team in the long run.
His team won the race because they were the most consistent. They were fast, yes, because they agreed a common goal to win; but a 40,000 mile race requires consistency above all. A bit like a business where:
- we are leading disparate teams of people who may not exactly share our passion and commitment
- it may be tempting to focus on a technical solution to improving things, rather than a people solution (especially if part of the problem is us, right?)
- the best performers are consistently good, rather than occasionally great.
It’s a great read if you lead others, be they inside or outside your business. Happy reading.
Team SPIRIT is by Brendan Hall, published by Bloomsbury Publishing.