Inspiration at the helm

A
major round-the-world yacht race has confirmed established thinking and
revealed new insights into teambuilding and leadership potential. Margaret
Kubicek puts the findings into context

Every
manager aspires to be an inspirational leader, but the first step for those
truly committed to getting the most from their teams may well be to look inward
– to analyse their own emotions and behaviours rather than focusing on
performance of their staff.

The
latest research into leadership* has identified the personal attributes,
behaviours and skills common to exceptional leaders, providing a benchmark for
managers keen on driving up performance of their teams. It also highlights the
important role emotional intelligence(EI) plays in those leaders who are a cut
above the rest.

The
research focused on the 2000/1 BT Global Challenge Round the World Yacht Race,
in which 12 identical yachts – all skippered by professionals with amateur
crews – completed a 30,000-mile circumnavigation over nearly a year. With the
aim of pinpointing what it was that enabled the winning teams to achieve and
sustain high performance, researchers tracked the skills and behaviours of
skippers taking part in the race. The yacht race setting provides a ‘beautiful
parallel’ to the workplace environment, says Jane Cranwell-Ward, director of
the Henley Learning Partnership at Henley Management College and co-author of
the report: "What you’ve got is a highly competitive situation that is
very changing and turbulent – a complex situation that replicates the situation
in business today."

Business
links

Conrad
Humphries, one the 12 skippers taking part in the Challenge, says the links
between the race and business environment are strong. "[Crew] taking part
in the challenge are not professional sailors, so just as at work, you are
dealing with ordinary people. The job of the skipper, like any other leader, is
about putting people into the right jobs, and keeping them happy, motivated and
busy."

Many
of the key skills and attributes the authors found in the successful leaders
are in line with existing research into management and leadership. But this new
research takes a slightly new angle on the theory coming out of the 90s, that
in a complex environment and during times of change it is a combination of
management and leadership that is needed. "Our study has been a lot more
specific about the skills and attributes needed," says Cranwell-Ward.
"We specifically highlighted what you need for management and what you
need for leadership – and showed that the effective leaders move between the
two."

Those
skippers who made it to the winners’ podium demonstrated a need for control and
procedures traditionally associated with management (which performance drivers
researchers dubbed the ‘x’ factor) as well as the flexibility and creativity of
leadership (performance enablers called the ‘y’ factor). These ‘y’ factor
attributes like self-belief, self-control and openness provided top skippers
with the necessary foundation upon which they could build high-performing teams
who were loyal and supportive, even during rough times.

Take
the winning skipper, for example. On the penultimate leg of the race, he had
started to lose focus, instead thinking ahead to his future after the race. His
sense of self-belief was knocked, leading to anxiety and feelings that the team
could work without him. He responded by turning quite directive in style, but
soon recovered the situation by opening up to his crew. Cranwell-Ward says :
"One of the ‘y’ factors is vulnerability, being able to share some of your
weaknesses and uncertainties and being prepared to admit making mistakes."

Soul-sharing

Understandable
perhaps on the confines of a 72-foot yacht on the high seas, but is it
realistic to think such soul-sharing can occur in the workplace? "It must
not be all the time’ but should be done ‘selectively and appropriately,"
says Andrea Bacon, research director of Inspiring Performance and co-author of
the report.

"Obviously
when you are dealing with a financial crisis in the company you wouldn’t say
‘we don’t know whether we’re going to make it through the next month’, but
there are times when showing that you are human is key."

Similarly,
leaders can sometimes be protective about their knowledge and don’t want to be
seen to not know something. "Covering up doesn’t work," says Bacon.
"People can see through that." Openness and revealing vulnerability
in this kind of situation, on the other hand, can pay dividends for leaders –
enabling them to draw on the strengths of their team members and promoting a
sense of shared leadership in the process.

When
it comes to responding appropriately to changing circumstances, leaders more
likely to do so are those who have developed their ability to apply emotional
intelligence, according to the researchers. They monitored to what extent the
12 skippers used EI behaviours throughout the race, and the podium skippers
showed greatest increase in behaviours over the course of the race and they all
had teams with a strong sense of shared leadership.

Chris
Broadway, a quality management consultant for IBM, was a crew member on the
Challenge. He says: "Even as a team member it taught me a lot about
leadership and not just teamwork, because everyone has to take ownership for
their own actions."

Self-awareness

At
the start of the Challenge, all skippers had a high level of motivation, but it
remained high only among the winning skippers – decreasing among all other
skippers as the race progressed. Self-awareness, interpersonal sensitivity and
influence were the other EI behaviours that researchers found increased more in
the podium skippers than the rest of the fleet.

Bacon
cites the level of self-awareness in a leader as particularly influential on
the dynamics of the team. One skipper was very aware of his tendency to deal
with stressful situations by appearing angry – that is, shouting. "He
would tell his crew when he felt stress coming on that he might shout, but made
clear it was not at them or because of them, it was just his own personal manner,"
says Bacon.

Highlighting
the problems arising from a leader’s lack of self awareness, Bacon tells of
another skipper, who was so blind to how unapproachable he’d become that the
crew would not even wake him up when important decisions only he was capable of
taking needed to be confronted. "The crew got to the point of being almost
too frightened to approach him and sailed off-course while he slept."

Skipper
Will Oxley, whose team Compaq NonStop took second place in the Challenge, says
experience – particularly that of leading a crew in the yacht race – has shown
him the value of drawing on softer skills and attributes in his management of
people.

Oxley
is a research leader for the Australian Institute of Marine Science and
believes a more heavy-handed style still has its place in projects of a
short-time span or in situations requiring quick resolution – a view backed by
the Global Challenge researchers.

He
says his style in the race was generally ‘very inclusive’, though he adopted a
variety of styles in the race depending on the situation.

Directive
style

"I
delegated strongly and supported those to whom I delegated. In most situations,
I would discuss with my watch leaders the way in which I would like to see the
yacht run and then I would leave them to it. If a dangerous or emergency
situation arose, I would take control and adopt a directive style," Oxley
says.

Oxley
combined this flexible style with a relentless focus on teamwork throughout the
race, with teambuilding exercises conducted in every port of call and de-briefs
held at sea, as long as circumstances allowed – even for routine manoeuvres.
Some 20 per cent of the time he worked with the crew prior to and during the
race was devoted to ‘teambuilding that had nothing to do with sailing."

Compaq
NonStop’s best leg, in which they took first place, occurred just after the
crew’s most intensive teambuilding exercise – a mega-session in Capetown with
managers from Microsoft, that included climbing Table Mountain. "That was
the only leg we won," says Oxley. "And the vast majority of the crew
would say team development was responsible for that success."

Likewise,
says Bacon, a lower performing crew in the Challenge which had not been
performing well – and which had not done much in the way of team development –
‘aired everything in Sydney’ halfway through the race. A ‘time out’ focusing on
culture, environment and team dynamics led them to have their best leg of all.

Key
findings
Best behaviours

The
best leaders – capable of inspiring high performance in their teams and
sustaining it for the long-term – are those who combine ‘driving’ and
‘enabling’ behaviours, adapting their style according to the circumstances.

This
is the principal finding of new research into leadership based on a study of
skippers taking part in the 2000/1 BT Global Challenge Round the World Yacht
Race.

The
research identifies a set of performance drivers (dubbed the ‘x’ factor): the
traditional management skills of self-motivation, discipline, resource
management, control management, conflict management and performance focus.
Skippers particularly strong in this area led their crews using structured
systems and procedures, but they typically had less motivated and united teams.

The
performance enablers (the ‘y’ factor) include attributes and behaviours like
integrity, self-belief, self-control, openness, vulnerability and shared
leadership – competencies that helped skippers create united, happy, loyal and
supportive teams. Skippers who majored on this approach to leadership were able
to inspire confidence and belief in their crews, but typically had teams that
were less focused on achievement.

The
skippers at the front of the fleet were the ones who were able to combine both ‘x’
and ‘y’ factor skills and abilities appropriately, in response to changing
circumstances. They showed a balanced approach to managing and leading and led
teams that were performance-focused and happy.

The
research also highlighted the importance for leaders of developing their
ability to apply emotional intelligence. The seven EI behaviours are
motivation, self-awareness, emotional resilience, intuitiveness, interpersonal
sensitivity, influence and conscientiousness. The podium skippers were the ones
who were able to use EI behaviours to anchor themselves, create a positive
culture and maintain the motivation of their crews.

Key
facts
The research

The
research project into the 2000/2001 BT Global Challenge was established by
Inspiring Performance in partnership with Henley Management College.

The
team of researchers gathered information from more than 550 structured
interviews conducted over an l8-month period during the lead-up to the race, at
ports of call and after the event. Questions were designed to give an in-depth
insight into the way the skippers managed, their leadership style and their use
of emotional intelligence.

The
race was chosen as the setting for the study because it provided an ideal
environment in which to examine leadership behaviour, with the 12 skippers
running parallel projects using identical equipment, all with amateur crew and
facing unpredictable, often hostile conditions.

The
full findings of the project are published in a book, Inspiring Leadership –
Staying Afloat in Turbulent Times, written by Andrea Bacon, Jane Cranwell-Ward
and Rosie Mackie, published 28 May 2002 by Thomson Learning, priced £19.99.

www.thomsonlearning.co.uk

The
findings of the research into the 2000/1 BT Global Challenge are published in
Inspiring Leadership – Staying Afloat in Turbulent Times. While the findings
themselves may not be the basis of any groundbreaking new theories, the
continuous comparison of the high- and low- performing leaders running through
the book offers a checklist of necessary ingredients to successful leadership –
potentially helpful reading for anyone who is at the helm and who may feel in
danger of drowning.

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