I arrived at Sheepdrove, the first venue of my Connect year, with the final leg of the journey being a beautiful drive through a misty countryside. Reassuringly, the signal on my Blackberry disappeared just as we arrived. Always a bitter sweet moment.
What struck me immediately on the Connect leadership programme was the mix of organisations and people that were in attendance. This mix of participants and organisations was very powerful throughout the programme. Bringing leaders from large complex organisations from the private sector together with individuals running social businesses, delivering government service and throwing some broadcasting and news organisations like the BBC and Guardian provided amazing insight into the challenges faced by these organisations. It also highlighted some common challenges around leadership: how we lead our teams, how we create vision and purpose for our businesses and the people that work for us. Many of our industries face unprecedente challenges ranging from technology disruption, regulation overload and heavy, heavy funding cuts. I also got to meet some really terrific people who think differently, leading radically different businesses to my own.
The first Sheepdrove session provided a mind blowing range of insights from business leaders, innovators and social entrepreneurs.
Social and useful verus just making money
Faisal Rahman, MD of Fair Finance, runs a financial services business that supports poor communities typically serviced by door to door lenders of whom the horror stories are well known. As an employee of a large financial services firm, this resonated with me especially as his focus had been on trying to provide financial support for those often not served by the high street banks, too risky, too niche. His proudest moment had been when the door to door money lender who had locked horns with early in the development of his business, came and asked him for a job.
Beware the disruptors! – They are really nice people with great ideas about making things better for people
A few highlights for me, Charles Adler, one of the founders of Kickstarter, widely perceived to be a platform that has disrupted financing, music, art and manufacturing, was wonderfully modest when presented with that assertion. He really concluded that the origins of Kickstarter was to establish demand for his co-founders planned Rave. “He just wanted to know, that if he spent the money put the party on, that people would come.” At it’s simplest, disruption will be successful when you are starting out to solve a problem that nobody has solved yet or when you aim to deliver something useful to the world. Disruption for disruption sake or as a means of attack is rarely as successful.
Lisa Gansky, a serial Internet entrepreneur talked of a shift from ownership to access. She highlighted how barriers to entry and the ease with which new business can be built on the scalable platforms and services the Internet has now made abundant and cheap. It has never been easier to start up a business and deliver your product – global distribution a few clicks away!
Going for Gold
I think that Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair of Youth Sports Trust, was everyone’s favourite favourite. She told us about the new approach Team GB developed to create the most successful British Olympics team ever. Her storytelling style is stunning: part political thriller, part science thriller and a whole lot of inspirational leadership. She also was our first introduction to Peter Keen (more of whom later) and also gave us the pervasive and infinitely useful three killer questions for any team member:
What do you?
What could you do?
What’s stopping you?
She also proffered..
“Be clear on your morale purpose.”
“Find the people who you know will take you there.”
“Always keep doing what is right for the customer.”
“Integrity is the pursuit of what is right, not what is popular or expedient.”
“Wherever you work or whatever you do, you should want to be the best …. Support your people in this and search for marginal gain.”
“Innovation is a mindset, not a product.”
Best in Class saw us spending a few days with some other companies and brands that we know and admire. I was lucky enough to get to understand what an effective digital marketing team Manchester United football club had and how effective they have been connecting to the 600 million fans around the world. Pretty much every buzzword for digital marketing came up! Augmented reality keepsy uppey with Ryan Giggs, digital participation for fans from around the world sitting in Old Trafford stand via live link up and even the ability to plot yourself on Google maps to identify exactly where your seat is.
Pets at Home demonstrated that creating a vibrant and engaged workforce can be as a simple as employing people who really love animals to work at the firm’s sole purpose: to do great things for the owners of pets. Sounds simple, but requires a really firm understanding of an organisations culture and discipline.
We also spent time with the peerless Peter Keen, the brains behind Team GB. He talked about the statistical analysis that worked back from the 66 Olympic medals GB won, to the amount of work and investment required for every team representing GB to achieve excellence. The most science I’ve seen in sport.
Along the way we also got to spend time with such great leaders such as Sir Martin Narey, who demonstrated that compassion and empathy can be essential to drive reform even in the bleakest of environments. Baroness Helena Kennedy, who talked about her personal motivations for being involved in law in the work she has done as well as protecting those for whom protection is not always readily available.
I was also lucky enough to get insight one the world’s best-known service organisations – Southwest Airlines. Again, Dave Ridley gave us evidence of empowering your employees and inspiring them to do the best for the customers is always going to pay dividends for the business.
For more playful amongst us, there was also an introduction from David Gram to LEGO’s “diplomatic rebels” who are responsible for the task of defining the future of play from within a company with a long history and traditional roots. A useful reminder of the power of coming back to the origins of your organisation and the purpose that originally underpinned it.
So in summary if you want to attend a training and development course that will leave you with a folder, a few tips, list of things to do that you probably won’t, then Wavelength is not the course for you. If however, you’re looking for a programme that will inspire you, connect you with a purpose, and give you motivation for going to work and leading your teams to do the very best they can every day, then Wavelength Connect is something you will enjoy and cherish. I leave the year energised and determined to find purpose in the work that I do and within the organsiation that I work for. Without this, we are mere managers.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some of the speakers mentioned in this article are part of the Wavelength Speakers Bureau. To view full biographies and to book them for your own event, click below:
Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair, Youth Sports Trust
Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC