As a Leader, How Can You Enable Others to Make the Boat go Faster?
Our philosophy centres around asking the question “will it make the boat go faster?”. To me this sums up Ben and the crew’s relentless focus and exploration of only things in their control or that they could influence to help with boat speed en route to Olympic gold in Sydney, 2000. In a business context, leaders need to be asking what are the key variables that might give greater business performance and results?
A leader’s job, though, is a complex one. Often tasked with the accountability of delivering results for a business, leaders are faced with the truth that they can never fully control what happens; they can only influence through their impact on those around them. Leaders can find themselves almost in a leadership paradox, they are accountable but can only influence what may or may not impact results.
For us when thinking about leaders influencing boat speed the key piece of this strange relationship is ‘impact’. As a leader, getting everyone pulling towards your goal relies on you enabling and challenging others to behave or perform well AND differently. For each interaction they have with their teams, we encourage leaders to reflect on their impact by asking the question “will it make the boat go faster?”.
Why is this helpful? By driving impact on others, leaders can act as key drivers in creating a culture. They are role models for that culture. They can build the bridge between what leaders control – their behaviour and what they can influence – their impact and then ultimately the culture around them.
We believe leadership impact that facilitates the culture that makes boats go faster involves three things:
Leaders can be catalysts for change within this by consciously asking themselves when interacting with others in their team “how am I shaping my impact so my team are clearer, more engaged or have learned something?” All things that help in the pursuit of a goal.
Leaders can find themselves almost in a leadership paradox, they are accountable but can only influence what may or may not impact results.
Why are clarity, engagement and learning so important? We know that greater clarity in what we am doing at an everyday level, what we are doing within a team and what everyone is doing across an organisation, gives immediate uplift in performance. We know that building engagement means people will channel more effort into what they are doing. Finally, leaders that can facilitate learning in others helps the team to refine, improve and create new ways of working which ultimately helps them to deliver what is required – even in the face of the ever-accelerating change of our modern world.
So, what might you expect to see from leaders who best exemplify this kind of impact?
Clarity often comes through leaders who create time to help set clear goals for their business (“what is the amazing thing we want to achieve?”) and then gives others time early on to understand how their own goals contributes to the overall Crazy Goal. These leaders then can provide clear motivational and developmental feedback about what is working and what could be done differently to make their boat go faster.
“How interested am I in what I’m doing?” – you tend to see an increase in this when leaders spend time helping others make a connection between what floats their boat (different people’s motivations) and the goals of the organisation. Leaders can’t truly motivate others at a fundamental level, but they can create the space so that people can find greater emotional connection to the organisational goals. This results in everyone knowing what’s in it for them.
Finally, helping others to learn gives increasing boat speed to the pursuit of the goal. Leaders creating pauses for individuals and teams to stop and review regularly is pivotal in letting people embed, tweak and accelerate their performance progress. Asking “what has gone well and why?” so those behaviours can be highlighted and repeated, “what hasn’t gone so well?” so we can learn what to stop doing and “what might be one thing to do differently?” so that a focus is kept on applying new ideas that can help bring greater boat speed to the goals the organisation want to achieve.
I was fortunate earlier in my career to experience these three leadership ingredients in action in one go. I was still developing my confidence (a never-ending process) in how to deliver workshops. I worked on a series of repeat workshops with different audiences with a senior leader who was an experienced facilitator. He coached, encouraged and cajoled me through that time and one afternoon I delivered a particular session that landed very positively with a group. It was clearly a high-water mark in my performance. Having sent the group off for a break he said to me “that was a fantastic session! How did you do that?”.
The fantastic part was clear affirmation of the result of the impact I had had. The question though initially threw me but he waited patiently for me to reflect on what I had done – responding by listening as I picked out key decisions and choices I had made in how I delivered that session. This gently forced me to be engaged not just in what I’d done but how I had done it. His question helped me focus on what had worked helping me learn and embed behaviours which were critical to improve my impact. With this learning I became more confident and engaged in how I could develop even more and left me much clearer how I could better run the session the following time.
As leaders we operate through others, using our influence to guide others in achieving what we are accountable for. While control may feel elusive at times, you can nonetheless impact and enable others by thinking about how we bring clarity, engagement and learning to all our interactions. By doing so you possess a powerful way of enhancing boat speed for both your people and the teams they work in.