Skippers Scale Mountains for Leadership Lessons

27 March 2015


Just 24 hours into their new roles, with the exciting reality of the next 18 months still sinking in, the Clipper 2015-16 Race skippers started out with a group trip to the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales for a training exercise with Mission Performance, the Clipper Race’s Learning and Development Partner.

Rob Lewis, a former Royal Marine and co-founder of Mission Performance, the leadership firm which translates their first hand experiences from the military, the performing arts, global expeditions and elite team sports into powerful leadership and coaching lessons, explains:

“Twelve professional skippers leading twelve amateur teams through some of the world’s most extreme conditions presents the world’s toughest leadership challenge. It takes a special kind of leader to be able to motivate a team from such diverse backgrounds and experiences.

“Through our study of the last race, we had the opportunity to coach and work with all twelve skippers and their crews. We asked the crews what made the difference on board from their differing perspectives. After examination, we boiled these insights down to the ‘world class basics' of coaching, communication, leadership and teamwork. The challenge for the skippers is to work hard to master them and when they do it will make a fundamental difference to the racing experiences for all on board and make the race even more competitive.”

The four and a half day course kicked off with an orienteering exercise which started at the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Here the group, including Race Director Justin Taylor and Deputy Race Director Mark Light, divided into pairs, switching regularly amongst themselves to share their values, expectations and race aims whilst navigating their way to the summit. Working in small groups, they were then tasked with solving a series of clues to find the coordinates of the bunkhouse, which turned out to be half way up Table Mountain, which would be their home for the next four days.

The group shared meal preparations and cleaning duties and started each day early with a sunrise hill walk which gave them the chance to reflect on lessons learnt during the previous day.

The key themes coached throughout the programme included effective leadership communication; self-awareness as a basis for consistency and authenticity; goal setting and motivation; listening and questioning, adaptability and change; building trust and rapport; utilising feedback and review to refine behaviour; conflict prevention and resolution; adaptive leadership styles; building high performance teams; motivational preference and crew diversity; defining, building a positive team culture, purpose and the means to sustain it.

They were also joined by former crew members from the last race who shared their own personal experiences and answered questions from the group. These first hand insights were all also supported with 10 racing scenarios from the last race which provided the 'Real Play’ focus for the coaching content.

The programme will be loaded onto a mobile learning platform over the next few weeks. This will give the skippers easy access to a range of 90 second video & audio refreshers to support them as their race progresses.
Skipper Jim Prendergast says: “It’s been a pretty intense but productive few days. I certainly think it’s helped equip us much better as a group to take on the challenge of the race. We’ve learnt that to get the best for the boat, we have to bring forth the skills of everyone on board. No matter what background, age or physical ability, we have to harness everyone together.”

The stunning view from the group’s mountain cottage base looked out clearly towards the outline of Sugar Loaf Mountain, an impressive reminder of the task they completed together on their first day. As the course continued, and they learnt more about the challenges and opportunities ahead, it remained there as a clear and constant metaphor of the far bigger, longer journey they will soon be taking.

Igor Gotlibovych adds: “As well as our own teams, our group of twelve skippers also forms one team with the united goal of running a successful round the world race. A huge yet exciting mission, we have had a great opportunity to get to know each other. Of course we have our competitive streaks and will compete against each other on the race course but we will also certainly support each other along the way.”

Concluding on the experience, Deputy Race Director Mark Light says: “As a group, we all feel that what we’ve done over the last few days here in Wales has been hugely beneficial. Whether you are a skipper, a crew member, or part of the race team, we’re all entering something pretty special and unique and the better we can all work together, the better the race experience will be.”

Crew Allocation, the most eagerly anticipated date before Race Start is now less than a month away on April 25. With skippers feeling confident and better equipped to take on the challenge ahead, everyone is looking forward to getting to meet their crew members and relishing the chance to start shaping their journey towards becoming high performing Clipper Race teams.

Click here to watch the video

Click here to find out more about Mission Performance.

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