This weekend, I’m off to Perth with my rowing crew, the Warriewood Crustys. We’ve already won Silver at the NSW State Championships. Now we venture west with our eyes on the main prize – Australian Gold! We’ve worked hard and improved out of site. We’ve also learned what it takes to perform at the highest level – lessons that translate to the world of business leadership. I share some of them here.
It starts with getting out of your comfort zone
I spend a lot of time working alone. There’s not much water-cooler conversation in a boutique leadership consultancy and it’s easy to become detached. Humans are social animals - we need social interaction to bring out our best selves. We also need to work out physically to combat the effects of our increasingly automated, virtual and power-assisted lives.
I discovered the perfect outlet for me in the sport of surfboat rowing. Surfboats are 8 metres long and carry 4 rowers and a ‘sweep’, who steers, strategises and ‘motivates’. We race in carnivals with 6 boats at a time competing in an out-and-back course of 800 metres. I joined a Masters crew in early 2016 and learned quickly of the dangers, leaving my second carnival in an ambulance. On the wrong day this can be a dangerous sport. It’s definitely belongs in the ‘exciting scary bucket. Anyone who has taken on the ocean knows, there’s only ever one winner. As an unknown poet wrote in a verse that graced the desk of President John F Kennedy:
Thy sea, O God,
My boat so small,
The ‘7P’s principle applies nowhere more than in a surfboat. ‘Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance’
. Rowing is hard work. Some experts believe that Olympic rowers are the ultimate athletes. Whilst we don’t quite scale those heights, my crew has trained 4 times a week and in January completed a 200km surfboat
marathon. We endlessly rehearse the many technical aspects. There’s a lot of hardware flying around and plenty of “don’t do that”, “don’t stand there”, “go NOW!”
stuff to learn.
This preparation, awareness and discipline is exactly the stuff required of strong leadership teams. The more we train together, the more situations we encounter and overcome (or not!) the more we learn and the better we perform.
Build the capacity to go faster
Boat speed is fundamental to success. The fastest boat will win more often than not. For our assault on the Australian title, we have increased our rating (the number of strokes we row per minute) by 15%. It sounds easy and an obvious way to go faster. But the challenge is to be able to actually ‘work’ at that higher rate, rather than just flail around ineffectively. Managing the increase requires a LOT of work to boost both physical fitness and technical execution.
Many businesses I work with operate too slowly. They have become comfortable at a certain speed. Trouble is, the world has changed. As leaders, we need to up the pace in response. Wherever we are ‘at’, we can go faster. Imagine what your business could achieve if it ran 15% faster. 15% greater productivity and 15% greater revenue leading to possibly an even great % profit.
But don’t underestimate the level of work required to move the speed dial - or be afraid to encourage your people to push beyond what they currently think is possible.
The collective effort is everything
Collaboration in teams is much-vaunted, but often little-seen. We’ve been taught to compete rather than collaborate. I do a lot of my mentoring work helping leaders to develop a genuinely collaborative intent and capability.
In a surfboat there’s no choice. It’s one of the ultimate collaborative experiences. The actions of one person significantly effect the collective effort. A missed-stroke, lapse of concentration or a delay in reacting to whatever the ocean is throwing up can result in anything from reduced boat speed to spectacular failure.