Lessons on Leadership: Learned from 15 year olds

I have been privileged this year to, again, act as a mentor in the High Resolves Global Citizen Program (http://www.highresolves.org/home.html ).  This year I have been mentoring a group of young leaders in Grade 10 at Corinda State High School.  I have written here previously about my involvement with this fine group of young people (https://shumpty77.com/2014/08/01/living-with-depression-and-anxiety-some-lessons-learned/ ) and am both proud and in awe of what they achieved over the course of this year.

The last session with my mentoring group this year was last Thursday and it was a time to reflect and celebrate the groups achievements.  Whilst I hope the young leaders in the program learned something off me I have been thinking a lot, as part of my own reflection, about what working with them has taught me.  Through this process of self-reflection I have come up with 4 key lessons in leadership my time with the young leaders of Corinda State High School have either taught me or solidified in my mind.

Lesson 1: Every team is different

I confess that I came into this year’s High Resolves program with some experience from having been a mentor in the program last year, albeit at a different school, and that I had some preconceived notions of the likely team I would be working with.  My preconceptions, based on experience, were found be entirely wrong over time as this team of young leaders display many strengths and weakness that were entirely different to those that I had previously encountered in the program.

Lesson 2: Even talented people need structure

This group of young leaders I worked with would have to be one of the most diversely talented groups of young people I have encountered over years of managing, coaching and being part of teams.  I have often been left in awe of those more talented than I in many contexts and lamented that life must be easy for those in that position.  Working with this group made me realise, very early on, that no matter how talented you are you still need some form of structure or plan to succeed.  The project of this High Resolves team was in real danger of not getting off the ground in the early weeks because whilst each team member had an idea of what they could do to best use their talent there was no structure around who would do what tasks.  Once a plan was formulated though each participant thrived.

Lesson 3: Personal engagement is always the best policy with team members

My role in the High Resolves program is to mentor and guide the team of young leaders on project management and strategy given my experience in professional services.  It would have been very easy to not engage with the team on a personal level and just sit in the corner and throw in a pithy comment every 30 minutes.  I worked out pretty early on though that that wouldn’t help this group because, after all, why should they listen to a balding, bearded and bespectacled bloke they do not know from Adam.  My time and their time would have been wasted if I could not engage with them so I decided to tell them, albeit in redacted form, about my own personal journey in life and in my profession.  That gave them an insight into me and, to me obviously, led them to engage with me a little bit more.

Lesson 4: Deploy people where they are both talented and interested … not one or the other

I am a recent convert to the significant importance of loving what you do for a living.  Put differently, if you are not enjoying what you are doing why do it?  In the context of my time with the High Resolves team I saw this fairly starkly: some of the team members who were interested in what they were doing imparted obviously better performances during the course of the program than those who were deployed into an area where they were not so interested.  An extension of this arose where we had young leaders who were immensely talented in one particular area and who were asked to work in that area but were clearly, by the end of the program, not interested in working in that area.  This lead to an obvious drop in performance despite the obvious talent.

To say that I enjoyed my time as a mentor would be an understatement: I am on the record as saying that it is the best thing I have done in 15 years of working in professional services.  The program has helped me grow as a leader and mentor and I have learned a lot.  Next year’s mentoring opportunities can not come quickly enough!

Some thoughts on business strategy and performance

I have been privileged to attend a conference over the last two days focused on forward planning towards 2020 and business building and to say I have come away refreshed and full of positivity for the coming months and years would be an understatement.

Here are some of the key themes to come from the conference, which I thought I would share because they certainly will shape how I plan for the future and also work on a day to day basis and I thought they were worth recording all in the one place. They are in no particular order:

  • Design a plan of action that suits what you have not what you want to have.
  • Focus on areas where you consider that you are going to have the most impact and exercise the most control.  There is no use focusing on an area that is already flooded.
  • Live up to the hype: it is no use not meeting expectations or exceeding them.  Performance at below expectations is crippling for ones personal brand and the development of ones business.
  • Be proud of what you achieve and be optimistic.
  • Be consistent in everything you do and seek excellence in even the smallest of matters.
  • Seek to use positive reciprocity as a tool for building relationships: why shouldn’t what we do be personal to the person we are seeking to build a relationship with?
  • Be disciplined and set the example for your team whilst giving the team the chance and the tools to succeed and receive acclimation.
  • One hundred plan: set achievable goals … doing too much only sets one up for failure.

These messages all resonated with me and will now travel with me every time I consider strategy and actions focused on improvement.

I will finish this post with a quote that impresses just how important it is to think proactively and out of the box when it comes to strategy and performance (from Theodore Levitt):

The future belongs to those who see the opportunities before they become obvious.

Bugger me … February already? Where did January go?

The sentiment in the title to this post is one that I have heard at least 3 times today and have seen on twitter possibly a dozen time more.  I too have found myself incredulous that already we are into the second month of the year.  I am not sure our lives get progressively busier as we get older but it sure feels like it on days like to today when I have sat back to reflect on the month that was January and feel like I have done not very much but that the time has flown.

It struck me though when I thought about it more that perhaps I was being a little too harsh on myself, given that it has actually been a packed month when I look at my diary, and the actual problem is one of failing to reflect on, for want of a better term, things when they actually happen.

Life rushes past so quickly that it is easy for the days to, it would seem, roll together into one large collage of success and failure that just continues to roll on without reflecting on the good and the bad of each day and looking for ways to improve.

In an effort to slow things down and learn more from both the successes of each day as well as the failures I have decided to spend some time each day reviewing what I have done during the day and reflecting on how I could have improved.  Hopefully that will make the time seem to run less quickley and I will learn and improve as the month goes on.

Hopefully next month I am not sitting here feeling like I have done nothing of import and rather feeling positive about the new learnings to come from the month just gone.

The Longest Drive … a lesson in golf and life

I was lucky enough to be included in a round of golf with some clients this morning at St Lucia Golf Course. We only played 9 holes and the format was a 4 ball ambrose. Whilst I have been playing a bit of golf and practicing much at the driving range of late, I have been pretty ordinary so I was more than happy we were playing an ambrose. To say I was chuffed with how I hit the ball today would be an understatement. Right from the first hole I was hitting my driver well and enjoyed a great morning with come quality blokes.

When we got to our last hole (18th) I had the words of a guy I have played a bit of golf with this year who is off a single figure handicap in my mind. His principal golf maxim is encapsulated in this quote:

“Think about your shot and decide on what you are going to do … then stop thinking and swing the club as hard as you can!”

Now there is some important background here: due to the combination of a troublesome hip and neck and nearly 20 years of lacking self confidence in my golf swing I have developed a way of getting my driver in the fairway by only hitting it at 80% power. It has worked for me for years and I have rarely strayed from it.

Today though, as I stood on the tee of the 18th and with some urging of one of my playing partners, I decided that I might as well have a go at hitting my drive at 100%.

The 18th hole at St Lucia Golf Course is a 302 metre par 4 with a very wide fairway and a great that is guarded at the front by two large bunkers that have a strip of grass about a metre and half width between them that feeds up to the green. The tee is a little elevated and the tee box today was right at the back of the available space.

Armed with the maxim above, I decided that the shot I wanted to hit was going to be a driver as hard as I could hit it which I expected would end up about 20 metres from the bunkers. Then I stopped thinking and swung as hard as I could. Off the club I said to myself that it was in one of the green side bunkers and the shot would have ended up there if it had not been directed at the patch of grass between the two bunkers. After a hard first bounce, the ball trickled up the patch of grass and rested on the fringe of the green (before it rolled back down to end up nestled between the bunkers a metre off the green). I have never hit a ball so far and had reaped the benefits of putting into the play the strategy my regular golf companion has been pushing to me for some time.

Now if you had read this far, you are probably thinking that this post is simply just a vanity exercise. Whilst I am chuffed about my drive on the 18th (and have told the story at least 10 times already which is a golfer’s perogative), the application of my friends maxim got me thinking about its application in other contexts.

What the maxim is really all about, in my view, is making decisions and then sticking to them without over thinking them. I know I, for one, am a chronic over thinker which at times leads to the procrastination I have already spoken of. Some times I wish I didn’t think so much and focus more on making a decision, sticking to it and, once said decision is made, “going hard” at it. That is easier said than done but is certainly something to strive to because I am sure that if we all focused more on execution of our personal goals rather than over thinking we would all be happier and being happy is what life is all about isn’t it.

I know it is only just golf and it is only just one golf shot but thinking about the thought process that lead to the result of the shot may well have given me some clarity as to how I might in the future avoid the procrastination that has dogged me. It is time to start thinking less and “go hard” me thinks!