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Episode 7 Courage

Hi, I’m Mark Denton, a motivational keynote speaker sharing what I’ve learnt about

Leadership and teamwork from being a skipper in the BT Global Challenge Round

the World Yacht Race. One speech that’s gaining popularity right now is all about

Resilience as it was one of the most important factors that not only kept us on the

racecourse in one piece, but also competitive with the best in the fleet. And over the

10 months and 32000 gruelling miles we found out the perfect recipe to build it!

You see it’s often thought of as just being ‘tough minded’, but there’s way more to it

than that. We identified 8 distinct factors that need to be in play to keep yourself and

your team resilient. Building on the first 4 episodes here’s episode 5. It’s all about the

importance of Creativity! To see the previous episodes, click here

So why is Courage the 7 th factor? Simply because whenever our resilience is being

tested it’s usually due to us facing challenging circumstances. And Courage allows

us to confront them, take the actions we need to take or have the conversations we

need to have.

The need for this on board became self-evident early on in Leg 6 from Cape Town to

La Rochelle. Right from the word go we were on our back foot after a poor start that

left us languishing down in 10 th place. This was compounded by the weather that just

wasn’t playing ball at all. We were supposed to be enjoying a rip-roaring trip up the

coast of Africa that would see us gulping up the miles. But the reality was anything

but. As we left Table bay in Cape Town, the wind quickly died to leave the ocean

resembling a mill pond.

Speeds in the fleet were barely over 1mph! And that starts to weigh heavy on

everyone pretty quickly, sailing the boat becoming a torturous affair as the on-watch

tries to eek the tiniest of speeds from the constantly flapping sails. And down below

decks, the constant adjustment on the winches translates to trying to sleep in a bass

drum in the middle of a rock concert. The result? After only a matter of hours people

were tiring of this and effectively downing tools - “Lets just sit here and wait for the

wind to come back”.

However, that is not the answer we needed, as races are often won and lost in light

winds. Doing 0.1 mph more than another yacht still means you sail 2.4 miles more

than them in a 24 hour period. And day after day, that could be the difference

between us getting back into this leg and securing our top 3 goal – or not. So, guess

what the hot topic for the daily meeting on day 2 was? – our lack of focus. It’s never

easy having to highlight the crew’s shortcomings, but if I didn’t then it was only going

to get worse. And if I caught it early and quickly maybe we could steal a march on

the competition.

And so it was, as we sat around the cockpit at midday that we confronted this, to turn

the mindset of ‘Lets just sit here and wait for the wind to come back’ to ‘what do we

need to do to effectively operate when it’s like this?’. Thankfully it didn’t take too much persuasion, which reminded me that these things can often seem more difficult

than they are in reality.

We then set about coming up with a plan. “The watches are too long” they said. So,

change them I said. Let’s have the courage to try some things out. “We’re going to

run out of food”. “So, ration it, and whilst you’re doing it why don’t you weigh it and

let’s eat the heavy food first”. “We need to get the boat leaning over to stop the sails

flapping”. “So, let’s try sitting and sleeping on one side to see if that helps”. And

slowly but surely it worked, and we started to see the fruits of our labour, reeling in

competitor after competitor over the next few days.

Finally, the wind showed up and it pushed us up and across the equator in 5 th place,

and by the time we rounded the NW tip of Africa, Cape Finisterre, we were up to 4 th .

However, 3 rd place was looking a lot more resistant to our advances. And just 48

hours out from La Rochelle we were 10 miles behind and not gaining a jot, watch

after watch. Either we need to be content with 4 th or we have to find another way. As

I went down the companionway to check our position I was greeted with a smile from

our wiley navigator Bill. “I think I might have something that could help”.

30 minutes later and he’d convinced me. But it was a wild option for sure. The tactic

he was suggesting meant sailing off in completely the wrong direction for 10 hours to

pick up a newly emerging weather system and then ride that all the way to La

Rochelle on a much faster wind angle than our competitor. But it was still going to be

close – an hour in front at best, and that’s if it all worked out as planned – and these

things rarely do. But we had little to lose, with 5 th some 100 miles behind. So having

briefed the crew we were off on our little mission, much to the bemusement of 3 rd I’m


But 40 hours later our masterplan had almost completely gone to plan. We weren’t

an hour in front or 10 miles back. We were side by side with our rival, both of us on

our final tack towards the finish line, us beating them by a mere 1 minute 28 seconds

after 42 days at sea. So that’s why Courage helps you be resilient, by being up for

having the conversations you need to have, and taking the actions that you need to


Top Tips to help you be Courageous

  • Do some visioning – how might confronting this lead to a better situation?

  • Do some negative visioning – what happens if I don’t confront this?

  • Courage means being afraid and acting anyway – so be ok with having some fears

  • Think ‘how would someone I most admire deal with this situation?’ – and then copy them!

  • Courage is like a muscle – the more you exercise it the stronger it gets

#resilience #leadership #race #teamwork #vision #goals #business

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Leadership in the eye of the storm

Contact  Mark

River View, Brook Avenue, Warsash, Hampshire, SO319HN

© 2017 Mark Denton/MAXVMG LTD

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