It was 20 years ago today that I was selected to lead a crew made up of people from all walks of life. I was 26 years old and certainly didn’t know much about leadership. Luckily, I was surrounded by leaders, crew members who new exactly what it takes to lead and shared their experiences. This race cemented many of my own beliefs, it made me realise just how far people can go with the right culture and values. We new what it would take to win the race and I’ve been lucky to share what we learnt along the way with audiences around the world.
A few weeks after crossing the finish line, I wrote down the top ten lesson’s I’d learnt, which were illustrated live during a conference. Hopefully they will resonate with many of you who face challenges leading teams and please feel free to share.
1. Early sense of direction – 1st 72 hours
On every leg of the race we focused on winning the start and getting our nose out in front within the first 72 hours. If you can give your team an early advantage and establish the pecking order. Competitors tend to follow.
2. Optimise your environment – Strategy, Team, Yacht, Competitors
Focus on doing the basics well and weight the key factors for success. On Team LG, we sailed the shortest distance, instilled a culture of continuous improvement, looked after the boat, looked after each other and let our competitors worry about why we were fast.
3. Make winning a habit
Winning is infectious and breeds self belief, as acclaimed NFL Coach, Vince Lombardi said “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
4. Knowledge share
Every four hour watch there was a handover and this was a moment when there was a measurable lack of focus as team members adjusted to their new surroundings. We minimised any losses by ensuring that every key crew member took time to share knowledge with their counterpart.
5. Continuous improvement
The Challenge 72 was a brand new one-design yacht, so we had to develop a learning culture onboard to ensure we optimised the yacht’s performance. Every 15 minutes we manually datalogged the boat’s performance and timed every sail change so we had a benchmark to improve upon each day.
6. Know and play to your strengths
Do you have the opportunity of doing what you’re best at every day? One of my coaches, a senior executive of British Telecom who was a crew volunteer onboard Team LG said in one of our team meetings, “We need to ensure that Conrad plays to his strengths and stays focused on strategy and helping us sail fast.”
7. Have influence without authority
This links to my next point about shared leadership and also the art of followship. Create a shared leadership environment and then back your team to take tough decisions. They will reward you by stepping up at critical moments, allowing you the space to plan your next move.
8. Share leadership
Build a leadership team around you and empower them to take decisions. Don’t succumb to the need to rubber stamp every decision which demotivates and undermines your team, see also point number 7.
9. Counter pressure with pressure
My worst moment in the BT Global Challenge was when our closest competitor Compaq beat us into La Rochelle and closed within 5 points for the overall win. We came out on the next leg and match-raced them off the course. We absorbed the pressure and then counter attacked to win the leg and the overall Princess Royal Trophy.
10. Celebrate success
Reward successes as they arise rather than waiting for big year end or quarterly reviews. Create and celebrate mini-victories “First give people a battle they can win and they will go on winning tougher and tougher battles for you” Viscount Slim. Remember success breeds success and winning is infectious.
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