Event Review: Lecture on Leadership in Challenging Circumstances

Wednesday 12 April 2017

This guest lecture was hosted by Cath Bishop, a former Olympic rower and former British diplomat, who now works as a leadership speaker and consultant with organizations and business schools.

Cath started the lecture by talking about her experience in sport and how she got into rowing. Her lecture focused on three main themes:

  1. High performance under pressure
  2. Constant learning
  3. Communication under pressure

Maintaining High Performance under Pressure

“This requires clarity, constant learning, and collaboration with others. Ask yourself, why do I get up in the morning? – Clarity of your goal, the purpose behind your hard work. Clarity is about defining your daily focus. Clarity highlights what you want to achieve, and why it matters to you. Eventually, you will find a way to attain it. You can’t expect to always possess the answers.”

From a leader perspective, leaders should create an environment where everyone you’re responsible for feels connected and comfortable.

Constant Learning

Cath moved on to talk about the attitudes we have toward constant learning. Most sport teams train to win, plan to win and play to win. Don’t. Instead, plan to learn whenever possible. Think of every experience as a learning opportunity. This is common practice amongst high performers, and they often share two other traits:

  1. They seek feedback
  2. They regularly review their successes and failures, asking how they can improve their performance, even if only by 1%

Q: How can you be effective in a complex, hostile environment?

“Be resilient, adaptive and flexible. It is crucial to be self-aware under immense pressure, to understand yourself in your worst circumstances – to know what your triggers and to manage your behavioral patterns. Seek authentic, collaborative relationships with people who are willing to go the extra mile for you.”

Communication under Pressure

Communicate with others and always remember that the consideration of others comes before everything else. Communication is at the heart of a high performing team, and of a true leader. “Never lie knowingly, be honest with who you are, and in what you say”. Always listen more than you speak, especially in an argument with another colleague. Talk about what really matters to them – what concerns them, because it is only effective communication when you speak on a personal and relatable level. Oftentimes, people are too focused on getting their points across which leads to a double-fail situation.

Collaboration Rather than Teamwork

Find something in common, share a common purpose, challenge perception, check reality, and be less competitive. Don’t compete at times when you’re not supposed to compete. Collaborate and understand each other’s’ strengths. At the end of every training session, it is down to how well your team members connect because everyone is already damn good (e.g. Olympics), the only factor which decides your success is ‘how well you read each other’.

Finally, ask yourself, “What is your 1% game changer?” “What can make you 1% more effective?” Improve by a tiny margin and let your passion be your driving force.

At the end of the lecture, Cath highlighted the useful messages found in the two following quotations:

  1. “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” – Voltaire
  2. “To collaborate effectively remains a matter of personal choice” – Mark de Rond

Ultimately, the most important question is to remember is this: What does this race/challenge mean to you?

Cath Bishop –  Silver Medalist, at the Olympic Games in Athens, 2004


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