Monthly Archives: October 2014

The week that was ………………  Lessons in leadership

And what a week it has been. Starting on Monday with the dining table surrounded by Clipper family and friends. It was a joy to meet up with Francoise and Rene from Mercy Ships and to share our fun and what often must have seemed insane renditions of life on board a racing yacht, thanks to tales from Carlo, Karina and Chris.

It was a pleasure to host Vicky our skipper and David, the Clipper recruitment director for dinner the night before Vicky’s talk to the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce about the race and Leadership lessons.

Vicky sharing her thoughts about leadership on board. Credit: ©

Vicky sharing her thoughts about leadership on board. Credit: ©

Vicky has always been a great public speaker and Tuesday night in front of around 80 of Geneva’s business leaders was no exception. Such confidence and enthusiasm was impressive.

Chris Preston, Leg 4 and Leg 8 crew member and boat sponsor, and I had been asked to support Vicky during the question and answer session after her talk. Sitting on the front row, listening to Vicky’s recollections of the race and some of the hairier moments during the voyage, sent emotional memories flooding through me. Up until this point, I could tell you that I had just participated in something extraordinary, yet it hadn’t really and truly felt extraordinary – life on the boat becomes routine and actually becomes “the norm” – it’s what you DO, it’s just (dare I say it) another job, albeit there is never a day truly the same and it’s a bit more wet or cold and dangerous than the regular office environment.

However, listening to Vicky talk about a particular incident in the Southern Ocean during which Gordon and I found ourselves the first two up on the fore-deck bringing back on board the Yankee 3 in the middle of a hurricane (no kidding) as well as the team work, camaraderie, jokes, and charity fund-raising (over USD46K for Mercy Ships, that’s over 30 life changing operations). I was reminded of what I’d done and why I’d done it. I had the tissues in my handbag, but thankfully avoided the need to use them, only just!

Then the questions to Vicky and to “the panel”.

I was astounded when Vicky was asked how – wait for this, “as a pretty, young female” she gained credibility from the crew. I really thought that I’d been transformed back into the 1970’s. My astonishment at the question delayed me from hearing all of Vicky’s answer and I wish I’d had the gumption to respond later. However, the fact that she, and the other skippers had thousands of miles of ocean racing behind them, that Vicky had actually skippered a boat to win a transatlantic race and she had been through a particularly rigorous selection processes , not forgetting all the qualifications she had to gain in the run up to actually applying for the race. AGHHHH –

It makes me wonder how Leaders in business gain their credibility. I don’t think that it’s by being a man or woman, it is surely about your track record and the relevance of that to the role you’re about to undertake.

We were then asked about how we developed trust throughout the team.

Team work

teamwork and trust

I was reminded of Steven Covey’s lecture I attended a few years before the race, “The speed of Trust” in which he says that trust is made up of four components:  1) Integrity 2) Intent 3) Capabilities and 4) Results.

Covey asserts that all four of the above are necessary for the building of trust saying that a person of integrity that does not produce results is not credible and if you are not credible you are not trustworthy. He also asks you to consider 13 behaviours that lead to high levels of trust.

As a team we had agreed how we would behave towards each other and agreed some basic yet important parameters before we were even on the boat. Without actually referring to Covey’s work we had inadvertently built a framework within which we could start to build trust within our team of 63 very different individuals.

We had a team building weekend and had people working together even before starting the race, to get to know and start building trust in each other.

However, when it came to actually racing a 70 foot, several million pound vessel, few of us had the skills, knowledge or competence to do so with exceptional results, from day One. And that is what Vicky as the leader had to work on. And on each leg our knowledge, skills and competence changed. For some it improved, for others new to the team it was the start of a steep, fast learning curve. And it was our job as round the world crew to ensure that our new crew mates succeeded, and gained our trust (as well as them trusting us).

We were also asked about discipline on board and how people were motivated or kept in line (interesting) given that Vicky had no opportunity to reward through bonus schemes or other corporate incentives.

Many of the team on board Switzerland were professionals in their own right. They were successful and used to leading others.

For us as crew, there were times when a quiet “thank you” or for others a public gesture, would have worked beautifully as a motivator. Often though we knew when we’d done something wrong or not as right as it could have been done –the response is immediate in boat performance and on a boat there is no place to hide your mistakes. We all owned up and shared the learning with our crew mates because we simply didn’t want them feeling as bad as we had done in those situations.

We didn’t mention the keel hauling that took place albeit rarely (!)…. I am joking.

And then the million dollar question to all of us about what we will do differently when we are back in our leadership roles on terra firma.

It felt as though all eighty eyes were firmly transfixed on us. Slow the breathing…think…

Replying under the gaze of 80 pairs of eyes.  Credit: ©

Replying under the gaze of 80 pairs of eyes. Credit: ©

I will work harder to understand an individual’s motivations for doing the job in question – what makes them tick, how do they want to be recognised, motivated, challenged, rewarded?

I will recognise and value that there is more than one way to skin a cat – just because someone wants to do something differently to the way I think it should be done, it can still be right, still be effective and it’s the outcome than matters ultimately.

I will take the point from Vicky’s own reply and be more aware of my mood and how that might affect others.

I will demonstrate humility and vulnerability when appropriate in order to demonstrate that I am actually human.

I will be aware that whilst I set extremely high standards for myself (and do expect others’ to do the same – ouch) that actually not everyone is wired the same as me and rather than be disappointed or frustrated by that, I will ask/watch/listen/figure out where someone’s starting point is as well as continuing to encourage “greatness” .

And whilst the corporate world is a tough environment, I’ll apply the adage that there is no failure, only learning. Sometimes, for someone, a new environment is where that learning might take place.

I will also think very carefully about the words that I use because words have values and judgements and labels that come with them. The language that we use affects the way we think, how we behave and how we view other people and situations. I will use words that enable people to achieve what is important to them, to encourage them be the best they can be.

And finally, having listened to a recent Ted talk with Simon Sinek about Leadership in his closing words he says the following:

“…….there are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.

Click here if you’d like to see more of Simon’s talk:

Vicky started her race campaign with WHY – WHY are we embarking upon a race around the world, and the answer was “to do something amazing”. She inspired us because this was something we wanted to do for ourselves and we all bought into her vision, her belief, her purpose for becoming a skipper on the race.

And back to the opening question as to how a “pretty young thing” could have credibility – you bet she did! And what’s more she believed with a passion in what she was doing, she inspired us to follow and to buy into what she was offering.

She enabled us to achieve something amazing because we believed in her vision!

Team Switzerland

Team Switzerland

thanks to the BSCC committee and sponsors for the great opportunity to tell our tale. Credit: ©

thanks to the BSCC committee and sponsors for the great opportunity to tell our tale. Credit: ©