I thrive on pressure. It’s a strength. And a weakness.

So I was delighted when the toughest guy IN THE WORLD (no kidding) told me recently that he loves it too. It’s part of the solution to the ineffective leadership we see a lot of today. Here’s the insight.

I heard famous explorer Tim Jarvis talk a couple of weeks ago about his retracing the extraordinary 1916 exploration done by Ernest Shackleton and five companions. Tim repeated their incredible journey, sailing a small rowing boat 800 miles through the roughest ocean in the world, from Antarctica to the island of South Georgia. He said the teamwork and motivation of the crew was outstanding when they were under pressure on the high seas. But as soon as they landed on solid ground and rested, discontent, disagreement and disunity began to unfold. People began to think about themselves more than the team.

His message is simple, and I absolutely believe it:

“Pressure builds teamwork”

At Singleton Ogilvy & Mather in the early 2000s, the motivator was simple: It was said a bullet was fired at your head the moment you joined - your challenge was to run as fast as you could to stop it from hitting you. It was, simply put, a high-expectation environment. Tough place. Very hard working. All about the client and all about client results. They say ‘purpose driven organisations’ have the best chance of success. Well, the purpose was clear and unapologetic – DELIVER RESULTS.

It was a different, hard, uncompromising place. Some hated it. They usually left pretty quickly. Fair enough. But the people I really respected there absolutely thrived on it. It was a badge of honour to survive and make it in that agency. If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere. And dammit - it was true.

One of the pillars of that culture was the Monday Morning 8.30 am meeting. Every single person in the agency had to turn up. Anyone could be called on to step forward and update on something. Hearts beat fast. Adrenalin flowed. It was frightening. It was WONDERFUL. And it was totally inspiring. 

I have always found the most motivated, happiest teams are those that have 10% too much work to do.

No doubt this will elicit a few ‘Gasp - what a seriously out-of-fashion view, lacking in New Age hip-ness and beanbags and mobile massages’ comments, but so be it. Actually it absolutely IS all about people: Genuinely caring, helping them learn and grow, and to achieve their full potential. It’s about motivation and inspiration. And in my experience, the right level of consistent pressure helps deliver that.

A recipe for motivating teams

For me, motivating teams is about setting high standards, insisting they are adhered to, working with pace and with deadlines that force action, regular communication, and a fair dose of friendly pressure on all. Take care of all the team along the way of course. And make sure you lead from the front, set the example, and make it a place where your team members feel they are kind of special to be part of that high performing team. Because, you know what? They bloody well are.

And yes, I have got it wrong along the way - pushed too hard, asked for too much, demanded and ranted, and been an insensitive shit. I continue to learn and grow as a leader, continue to make mistakes, and try hard to keep fine-tuning and to improve. Nevertheless, I still have seen nothing, anywhere, that builds teamwork and a sense of pride faster and more powerfully than being part of a hard-working, high-expectation, high-delivery team; driving real results for others, and themselves.

Time for me to have a cup of tea and a lie down. Thank you.

 

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