In the media – Old wisdom – Discovering what you already knew

– This article was published in Training Journal (May 2014)

There isn’t a fine line between youth and adulthood. We grow and develop in secret, our clothes stop fitting, but we didn’t see that happening and, I don’t know about you, but the “me” looking from the inside out doesn’t look a bit like the “me” I see in the mirror each morning.

I guess, therefore, it should be no surprise that our own personal development and growth is equally hard to observe. We can attend courses and, if we are lucky, we will retain some of the knowledge that we are taught but the real learning happens imperceptibly and in reality the wisdom starts to be developed much earlier.

It strikes me that from a very early age we are given lessons in high performance from our parents and our wider network of family, friends and teachers.  Old sayings that we have learned from a very early age give us wisdom and we don’t necessarily understand their value and significance until we re-discover them a second time in a more modern business learning environment.  We don’t immediately recognise the value of common sense when someone starts a sentence with the words “Well, you know what they say …”

For example “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.  The most effective team performers start with a strong bedrock of health and well-being.  Managing energy is at least as, if not more, important than managing time.  Time is fixed but energy levels can be increased. Why does a good night’s sleep always make the problem seem less challenging, the solution clearer and the decision easier?

Building a high performing team is both hard and easy at the same time. The principles are simple but the practice is hard. Fortunately we have all been given some of the secrets of how to do this from a very early age. The origins of many of these quotations are unknown or lost in time but the meaning and the wisdom is clear.  Supporting the development of high performing teams can be as simple as remembering these phrases and acting upon them particularly when you “can’t see the wood for the trees”.

World class leaders and high performing teams have a number of qualities in common:

1. It’s not what you know it’s who you know. It’s widely accepted now that emotional intelligence is at least as important as intellect. Self-awareness, through understanding your own emotions, is the first step on a journey of understanding others and your impact on them in order to develop strong relationships in life and in business.  Great performance results from a strong and supportive network.

2. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.  We define Mission and Vision statements and define corporate values in order to ensure that the leader and the team are aligned and concentrate on what is important rather than chasing distracting opportunities at the expense of what we already have.

3. Clothes maketh not the man. There are many opportunities to learn techniques for engaging with people.  A smart suit and shiny shoes are essential and you can even learn charisma.  However, over time they become transparent if there is a lack of integrity and no matter how hard you try to dress it up “principle-centred leadership” is the only way to show who you really are.

4. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We now call this a work life balance and everyone wants one.  Working too hard can be counter-productive and yet at the current pace of industry it is all too easy to find oneself working longer and longer hours. We all need our recovery time in between the “sprints” of high performance.

5. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. First, from birth, we are dependent and we strive to become independent.  The true power in high performing teams comes from inter-dependence where each member knows precisely their own contribution and value together with the strengths of their fellow team members.  Developing a balance of capability and perspectives can magnify performance

It has become a bit of an obsession and one that I enjoy.  Almost every lesson in leadership is reinforced by a well-known phrase or saying that I have known since my youth.  If only I had realised earlier!

View the Training Journal article

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