Leadership Academy

I had no idea!

Posted by: John Deffenbaugh - Posted on:

Introduction Text:
Pitsford Water Marathon was held recently.  It doesn’t feature on the regular calendar of the runners who will be plodding the streets of London this weekend.

Faculty member, John Deffenbaugh

Pitsford Water is near Northampton, and as usual with these niche races I had to look closely at the map to find out where it is.  Showing up at 8am on a Sunday morning in the middle of nowhere is sometimes risky, but the heart lifts when you see all the other crazy runners who have the same idea.  300 or so for this race, which was 4 laps around the reservoir.  A nice bright and sunny day as it happened.

Dave and Linda Major are behind this race.  They hold the world record for most marathons by a married couple, 961 at the time of writing, but over the coming weekend it could go up to 963, or indeed 965 – you get to this level by doing ‘doubles’, e.g. Saturday and Sunday marathons.  Pitsford Water was a double.  Needless to say I only did one day.

Doing these kinds of races you often come across many of the same runners.  All interesting characters.  The conversation is fascinating, both what you can engage in and listen to.  Running behind me I overheard a couple discussing their schedule:  “What number is this for you?”  “344 I think”.  I think!?  That sounds pretty precise to me.  But as Dizzy Dean, the great major league pitcher said:

If you done it, it ain’t bragging.

I recently interviewed for new staff, and one thing I focus on first is what people put down as their interests.  Like the runners at Pitsford Water, everyone has niche interests.  Getting people to talk about their interests shows where their passion lies – reading, church, clubs, socialising, cooking, gaming, whatever.  Interesting people doing interesting things.  Getting people to talk about their interests among their team gives some real eye openers – like the university principal on the board who relaxes at home by gaming.  It makes you question stereotypes.

It also makes you think about your own authentic leadership, and what you both know about others and share about yourself.  Within small impact groups as part of leadership development, participants voice their concerns about how much to share about themselves with their staff.  Becoming too familiar can lead to questions, as Professor Nick Petford, vice chancellor of the University of Northampton, found when he was pictured crowd surfing above the heads of dozens of celebrating students.  Being a closed book, on the other hand, can be equally stereotyping.

Managing your own authenticity is one of the paradoxes of great leadership, according to Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones:

To attract followers, a leader has to be many things to many people.  The trick is to pull that off while remaining true to yourself.

A leader also has to find out about their own staff, what they do at the weekend, where their passion lies.  It was the writer Tom Peters who a few years ago talked about all the activities that people do outside work – chair committees, organise events, manage their families, care for others.  Then when they come to work they get the stuffing knocked out of them and all this passion is lost.

Do you know what your staff do in their spare time?  Do you even care?  If they’ve done 344 marathons they probably won’t tell you.  So how do you tap into that passion and make it work for them and you in the day job?  Maybe start by asking them what they did at the weekend: “344th marathon.”

“I had no idea!”

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