Speakers that have inspired me
Inspiration comes in many shapes and forms. I draw much of mine from sport – I believe sport can teach business much about performance and leadership, and sporting analogies make perfect metaphors for ambition, achievement, success and teamwork. I’ve been lucky to hear many sports stars speak about their careers, the highs and lows, the triumphs against the odds. But some of the best I’ve heard have not been the big name stars.
England Cricket Team and Team GB psychologist, Steve Bull
I recently attended a leadership conference put on by my old investors; the audience was made up of around 100 CEOs and Chairman’s, past and present, of their portfolio companies. Of all the speakers I heard that day, the most practical examples from a business perspective came from former England Cricket Team and Team GB psychologist, Steve Bull, who describes himself as part psychologist, part leadership coach and part change management consultant. His website features a testimonial from former England Cricket captain, Michael Vaughan; “Steve Bull’s ideas and techniques will equip anyone in business with a game plan for acquiring the winning edge.”
A large part of the England Cricket Team’s winning edge in the 2000s was delivered by learning how to manage individuals, as well as the team. That starts with understanding the individual and finding the right place for them in the team, playing to their strengths and neutralising their weaknesses. That sounds obvious but in teams of the past, there was no place for introverts; they were seen as weak minded and uncompetitive. The reality is that some of the best performers, and indeed recent captains, have not been the extroverts of old. They have been thinkers, who can bring a team together to outperform through management and leadership on and off the field. Business is no different, and Steve Bull taught me to first understand the individual before I think about the team.
Expeditioner, Chris Bonnington
I draw my main inspiration from the spirit of expedition and adventure – pioneers forging their way to the ends, depths and heights of the planet to challenge themselves. Chris Bonnington was, for me, one of the most inspiring. His career has included nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas, including four to Mount Everest and the first ascent of the south face of Annapurna. I heard him speak some years ago at the London Business Forum about leadership at 27,000ft – how to manage a bunch of prima donna climbers, all desperate to reach the top and achieve personal goals. How do you turn around and tell them they can’t because the weather window has closed, or they haven’t got enough oxygen, or they physically won’t make it? That is tough, and it means life or death. Decisions in the workplace rarely include such high stakes but making and taking decisions as a leader can be equally stressful, and bringing the team with you can be tough. Establishing clear guidelines up front is critical for success. And everyone needs to know that ultimately, you will listen to the team but in difficult situations, you have to make a call. That is your job.
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