Humphrey Walters On The Soft Skills of Winning –

At its best – understanding the lessons from the edge of endeavour can help to sharpen our focus and our edge too

We’ve had a long love affair with seeing our problems mirrored in triumphs & lives of exceptional people and high achievers. We love their biographies and hearing the secrets of great sports and military leaders. If only we could be respected like Nelson. If ony we could be as challenging as Richard Branson or as driven as Steve Jobs. If only we could manage like Mourinho – or bend it like Beckham. And – this love affair with heroes and leaders has its dangers. There is a danger of cliché and homilies – of group think and the leadership cult. But…

From The Edge

A Rough Day In The Office On The BT Global Challenge

At its best – understanding the lessons from the edge of endeavour can help to sharpen our focus and our edge too. And last night, thanks to the Henley Partnership and The RSA – I had the opportunity to sharpen up, hearing Humphrey Walters – someone who has been tested in the extreme and taken the very highest of achievers through defeat and victory.

The Last Thirty Five Seconds

Walters is most well-known for being the management advisor to Sir Clive Woodward and the triumphant 2003 English Rugby World Cup Campaign – where after seven years of work, the trophy was won in the last thirty-five seconds. A successful business executive he reinvented himself to work alongside some of the most demanding team environments in sport and endeavour. His CV includes working alongside Chelsea FC, Formula One Teams and the incredible JCB 4WD Landspeed Record. But Walters is not just a theorist. He has walked the walk too. Most famously – he took part in the insanity that was the BT Global Challenge – spending 11 months sailing the wrong way around the world in force 10 gales. The video alone would put you off setting out aboard a pedalo on the local boating lake, let alone signing up for blue water adventures. As befits someone who has experienced the demands of these high pressure places, Walters is relaxed, funny and easy-going. And yet his thoughts and lessons from those tough environments are critical insights into what makes the difference between taking part and winning.  It’s easy to be cynical about comparing managing a product launch to survival in the Southern Indian Ocean – and viewing handling that office disputes across the corridors as being akin to high-profile team clashes between millionaire footballers. How can our meeting room be compared with these rare environments, populated by incredible personalities? But – as Walters tells it, there are core lessons for us all. Effective, well managed teams, extraordinary teams – share certain behaviours and leadership traits.

With more than 890 million pages on the internet focused on management  and countless courses on leadership – you would think that all our organisations are superb environments for high achievement – and that all executives were guiding hyper performing teams on the way to success. No? So why are we often so lost? Where is it most teams go wrong? And were is it the best teams go right?

The key pointers from Walters, based on his experience working with the very best – appear deceptively simple.  Critically – great teams and great leadership comes down to a lot of the ‘soft stuff’.  Of course, you need the physical attributes, skill and hard work. But it’s mostly about the culture of the place. It’s about a  common cause, shared identity – and a focus on winning. It’s about communicating and being honest and supportive. As a colleague told me last week – “culture beats strategy – everytime“.

Leadership, Followship, Partnership

I was particularly keen to learn about the role of collaboration –  creating and  working together. And Walters was crystal clear: ‘if you want to travel fast, go alone. But if you want to travel far – go together’. The key to management success is Leadership with Followship – and Partnership. Walters also explained how great teams are based on lots of little things.  Granny was right. The devil – and ultimately individual and team victory is in the detail – and the focus, the commitment. Each team he works with develop their own rules and standards – and its often  nothing revolutionary. Its getting the basics right. Turning up on time, having the right environment, pride. Having previously studied the work of Kevin Roberts – in which he looked at the  top sports teams worldwide in his book Peak Performance, I had understood the importance of team spirit, heritage and star players. But for Walters – whilst a lot of things can be important to success,  it’s the cultural stuff that makes the difference.

So – if you fancy winning a World Cup, sail around the world in a dangerous fashion, or maybe,  you just need to sort out that product launch with the team from sales PR  – here are some  top tips from Humphrey Walters to bear in mind…

Humphrey Walters - Thinking Correctly Under Pressure..

Great Winning Tips From Walters:

“To NOT know why you’ve won is unforgivable.”

“Concentrate on what you can control”

“T-Cup = Thinking Correctly Under Pressure”

“Leadership – Followship – Partnerships”

 “Do 100 things 1% better – not 1 thing 100% better”.

“Think In Ink” (write all your thoughts and plans down)

And remember…

“Martin Luther King didn’t stand in Washington and say –  ‘I have a plan’ “

Thanks to Humphrey Walters, the Henley Partnership and The RSA for a great event.

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Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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