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
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