The language of leadership…notes on the Foundation for Leadership through Sport conference

The Future Leadership in Sport Conference hosted at Twickenham Stadium on Friday had it’s usual great melting pot of attendees.. from Heads of Regional Academies for rugby to Army selection officers, students to physiotherapists, psychologists to CEOs

Language of Leadership was the theme this year, with a cornerstone of the programme being led by David Marquet (author of Turn the Ship Around), introducing his new book Leadership is Language

I’ll declare now.. I’ve not read the book yet (just dipped into a couple of pages) .. but from David’s talk and the subsequent discussions and panel conversations on the day, here’s a few thoughts (and you can see my live tweets collated here)

too much focus on ‘prove and perform’ restricts the ability to ‘improve and learn’

David points to the risk in us tasking Thinking and Doing to different roles, layers and individuals in an organisation.  Many an example of individuals blindly following a ‘command’, ‘process’ or ‘instruction’ because someone else (deemed more senior) had done the Thinking, and ‘my role is to do’.  ‘We need to reveal the patterns in the errors to work out the better way’

diverse and independent thought are vital for teams to make great choices

We explored the risk of bias in the simplest activities, that narrow the field of creativity and inclusion.  David illustrated this by asking us to decide in teams ‘how many countries are in Africa?’ and showing the risk of the first statement on the table being ‘I think 54’.  David Sheepshanks, Chairman FA Technical Advisory Board echoed that messaging by asking ‘how do we provoke questions as opposed to telling?’   Danny Kerry, England Mens Hockey Coach said ‘to create autonomous team members you have to leave space’

leadership language is often historically anchored 

How often do we talk about empowering teams but unwittingly close down creative thought and difference by unconsciously sharing a bias based on experience, or personal preferences?   Bill Sweeney talked about the focus at England Rugby being ‘no spectators here.  Get out of the stands, and get on to the field of play.’  Unless we’re ‘in-it’ .. understanding the current context and the reality of the sharp-end, aren’t be just repeating history

communication skills gets confused with communication channels

In answering questions around communication, some of the panel talked about the channels we can use.. and the rise of formats like WhatsApp, SnapChat, as well as written letters, text and emails.  Richard Lloyd, MD of Accolade Wines made the point that the ‘clarity of message’ is key, regardless of the transmission device.  Clare Daniels, Match Official Development Officer at the RFU summarised this nicely for me by reminding us of the George Bernard Shaw quote ‘the great illusion with communication is that it has taken place’.

Much to still delve into ..especially David’s book.  It’s also reminded me to pick up a copy of ‘The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’ book, based on the #1 New York Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages




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