How to create a new win from an old lose...

Team building and leadership qualities needed to face difficult circumstances
Posted on: Friday 06, May 2016
Category: Thought Leadership

This article examines the art of team building and great leadership qualities required for facing adversity and extreme situations.  Sometimes we all 'hit a wall' and nothing goes right - it's then that leadership skills are truly tested. Top teams don't quit, but perservere and somehow find the right mindset to create a new win from an old lose. 

Reading time: 2 1/4 minutes.

Extreme Worldwide Adventure competitor Robyn Benincasa in her book 'How Winning Works' wrote, 'never let the pursuit of Perfection hinder your progress.' Robyn and her team have competed in some of the most challenging places on earth.

This made me think - this is an important lesson for all leadership teams to learn.

Have you ever pursued an endeavour as an executive leadership team that just won't go to plan? And no matter what, no matter how hard you try to get it on track. Sometimes there feels there an unseen force that gets in your way and you bump into adversity at every twist and turn?

It frustrates like hell, doesn't it?

We all 'hit a wall' at some point, when nothing seems to go right. So what do you do when life throws a curve ball, and all your plans go to mush? At such times the end goal just seems elusively out of reach. Or perhaps things happen that is completely out of your control - now that never happens does it?

So when these things happen (and we know that they do) what do you do? Do you carry on and slog through it?

Perhaps, for a while.

But if that doesn't work, then what?

Do you then get demoralised and quit or give up and say, 'Well we gave it our best shot, I guess this just wasn't meant to be?'

Quitters are Shitters!

The MD of a leadership exec. team and I were discussing this very point one day. He came out with this beauty, 'Quitters are shitters!' He had said this the night before to his own daughter - who at the time faced some personal challenges at school. 

Now that made her think.  She changed tack.

It made me think too.  How does this apply to high performance winning teams?  

Curious? Then read on.

The thing is, what I have noticed about many top teams that I work with, is that they might not as individuals be the 'so called' very best at X, Y or Z. But as a team what they have in common every time is that, collaborative as a team. They persevere and push through the problems that besiege them - all a time, without fail. Despite setbacks they call each other to think differently and always honour and respect each other. There is never any blame or malice in these teams. In this way they somehow find a way through their issues and difficulties - this is great teamwork. The presuposition here is:

There's always a way, even it it means changing the finish line of the goal. This sort of mindset is what makes top teams and often trumps capability.

Robyn cites an example of when her team was in first place in a race with kayaks in an extreme part of the world with a lead of over two hours. They had arrived at the last check in point for their final leg - a 75 km bike ride. The race appeared to be theirs! But frustratingly their bikes for this final stage were no where to be found. Turned out they hadn't yet arrived! This was shear disaster for the tired and exhausted four-man team. They had raced non-stop for many days straight to win that two hour lead. Amazingly they managed to beg and borrow rusty old bikes from the locals and got on their way. But unbelievably the officials loaded on penalties for this action.. This seemed grossly unfair.

Could things get any worse? Despite this, the team unbelievably reframed this to: 

"As long as there is hope we're still in the game."  

Some hours later, when they were cycling on these old 'crappy' bikes, their proper mountain bikes arrived at the check in point. However, the officials would not allow a rendezvous along the last final leg. Instead, the officials forced them to return to the last check point and begin the final leg all over again! Despite their heroics, they inevitably lost their lead. It would have been too much for such a story to come true. They finished fourth.  Pretty good all considered.

They knew the race was no longer theirs to win. But, despite shear exhaustion, along with all the difficulties that had beset them during this final 75 km section, this team created another (second) new finish line for themselves.

They decided as a cohesive team that for them:

'It isn't about 'the race' anymore. It is now about showing the sport and the world who we are as a team.' 

That new agreed to reframe gave them a new purpose that transcended the race. This event became their moment to show the world about how true champions respond to adversity.

To the world media, these were the real winners.

So what leadership qualities can we glean from this example?

Well, in the face of adversity winning teams will seek to find adjustments and re-plan against a revised finish line. The important thing here is that often the revised finish line ends up just as meaningful as the original.

Back to Robyn Benincasa. She says this of leadership:

'Never let the pursuit of perfection hinder progress.'

So, if the original goal is no longer possible, then find a new finish line (again and again if necessary) and set a new challenge. Then, help the team see that light and reach for that star. That's the art of real leadership.

World class leaders know how to do the same and 'how to create a new win out of an old lose.

So to apply Robyn's approach to you as a leadership team means:

  • To be best in class, sometimes it is important to rewrite the rules for what will count as your win.
  • Then mobilise your team towards that new vision.


[Word count 894 Words]

Updated and revised from original blog published November 2015

All supporting infographics designed and created by Andrew Jenkins.

Resources for further reading and learning:

How Winning Works, Robyn Benincasa, Harlequin 2012

You Are More Than You Think - the return to your authentic self, by Andrew Jenkins, SRA 2014

How to win the mindset game (Blog)

Also, check out my page on Authentic Leadership.

Read more blogs on leadership team development.

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