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Leaderships Challenge – SDI in action

Training for the world’s toughest leaderships challenge begins in the Welsh Mountains

Just 24 hours into their new roles, with the exciting reality of the next 18 months still sinking in, the 2015-16 race skippers started their new roles with a group trip to the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales for a training exercise with Mission Performance (Clipper Race’s Learning and Development Partner).

Rob Lewis, a former Royal Marine and co-founder of Mission Performance, explains: “Twelve professional skippers leading twelve amateur teams through some of the world’s most extreme conditions presents the world’s toughest leadership challenge. It takes a special kind of leader to be able to motivate a team from such diverse backgrounds and experiences. Through our study of the last race, we had the opportunity to work with all twelve skippers and many crew. We asked what made the difference on board from their different perspectives. After examination, we boiled these insights down to some fundamental, basic leadership and teamwork lessons which if the skippers can master well, will make a real difference.”

The four and a half day course kicked off with an orienteering exercise which started at the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Here the group, including Race Director Justin Taylor and Deputy Race Director Mark Light, divided into pairs, switching regularly amongst themselves to share their values and race aims whilst navigating their way to the summit. Working in small groups, they were then tasked with solving a series of clues to find the coordinates of the bunkhouse, which turned out to be half way up Table Mountain, which would be their home for the next four days. The group shared meal preparations and cleaning duties and started each day early with a sunrise hill walk which gave them the chance to reflect on lessons learnt during the previous day. Key themes studied throughout the course included effective communication; self-awareness; conflict resolution; adaptive leadership styles; and how best to build high performing, positive, cohesive teams and cultures. They were also joined by former crew members from the last race who shared their own personal experiences and answered questions from the group.

The leadership & management challenge is huge for these skippers. 80% of the challenge is linked to the human element and 20% to technical sailing. In Mission Performance’s opinion it is one of the toughest leadership challenges in the world. Each of the 12 yachts will have 20 amateur sailors of mixed sailing ability and 1 professional skipper in a ‘one design’ race. The route takes them through the North Pacific and Southern Oceans. The Clipper 70 foot boats and the team that crew them are the only insurance to the ever present threat of injury or death. Age and previous experiences are no barriers with 18 to 75 years old working shoulder to shoulder. The environment down below is cramped with very little private space so tolerance is key as is the ability to manage your mood and your emotions. It is against this background that Mission Performance needed to source a very accessible and practical tool that could support the development of healthy cultures aboard each of the 12 yachts.

The Strength Deployment Inventory was chosen as the tool to facilitate these outcomes. Mission Performance is accredited to deliver a variety of tools to support team and individual development. Many of these place the power in the hands of the facilitator. The SDI empowers the delegate to take control without the need for an external expert to tell them how they should or should not be thinking and feeling. This was always at the heart of Elias Porter’s philosophy and one that is embraced by Mission Performance.

Building on their experiences with the BT Global challenge and Volvo Ocean races Mission Performance positioned the SDI as the relationship philosophy or framework for the race. The reference point for all effective relationships on board. The reference point for all relationship building and cultural development. In particular the prevention and management of conflict and the importance of feedback in ‘getting it more right most of the time’ when under stress. If people manage their moods and interactions proactively, with the help of a very clear understanding of what makes people tick, then the collective mood can be directed at racing the boat and not bating the people.

The SDI’s versatility and relevance to the race was clear to the skippers. Once introduced Mission Performance referenced all subsequent reviews and discussions against the SDI. Additional insight were provided by the Portrait of Strengths and Overdone Strengths where specific behaviours required by people and situations were compared with each skipper’s habitual responses. New responses were discussed and formed into developmental objectives for the skippers.

The race directors together with Mission Performance will provide ongoing face to face support to the skippers around the world. Mission Performance will also provide access to a mobile learning site that will summarise the lessons and provide structure to their reflections and learning. Concluding on the experience, Deputy Race Director Mark Light says:

“As a group, we all feel that what we’ve done over the last few days here in Wales has been hugely beneficial. Whether you are a skippers, a crew member, or part of the race team, we’re all entering something pretty special and unique and the better we can all work together, the better the race experience will be.”

The programme led to significant increases in customer service (95%) and employee engagement.

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SDI – Strength Deployment Inventory Tool

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