Swimmers take your marks . . .

All three of our kids can swim. Two of them, Tamryn and Sipho, rather well. In fact both have won Victrix/Victor Ludorum for their aqua efforts and Sipho has gained his provincial colours.

‘So what’s the big deal,’ you ask?

Well, here’s the strange thing. All three kids were taught to swim by their mother. Again, you may ask, ‘So what?’ Well, what if I were to tell you that Vicky can hardly swim herself? Let me qualify ‘hardly swim’ so that we are clear about what we mean here. ‘Hardly’ means that Vicky dons water-wings in the bath tub. ‘Hardly’ means that she can make it across the pool using a stroke that is something between a doggy-paddle and an ostrich attempting take-off. (Actually, it is worse than that but none of us have had the courage to tell her.) ‘Hardly’ means that Vicky is at risk every time she encounters a deeper than usual puddle.

I think you get my point.

Yet the fact remains that our kids are as at home in the water as they are plundering the fridge. As a result of this amazing non-transference of skill, Vicky and I have spent a great deal of our adult life sitting alongside various pools, whether for training or galas.

It was while watching Sipho at a gala that the following thought occurred. The race lasted all of 32 seconds yet had absorbed countless hours in preparation. All that preparation for just 32 seconds! Hardly seemed justified until I saw the grin on his face which indicated a PB – a personal best time. The effort put into the training, the length after length, come rain or shine, had reaped its reward.

I think it is a lot like leadership.

Good leaders are made. Their training may or may not be deliberate but somehow they acquire the attitude, emotional intelligence and skills necessary to become effective leaders. Those are things best shaped in training, away from the glare and glamour of race day. Good leaders have had the kind of preparation that enables them to perform at their peak when it matters most. They don’t stop training and putting in the time just because they are already champions, in fact they work even harder than before, set new goals, stretch themselves even further and attempt the impossible. The training routines of true champions may or may not change, but their attitude and dedication towards training, understanding the role it plays in their success, doesn’t falter.

So often I have found that leaders, on assuming the role, position and responsibility of leadership, stop training. Somehow they assume that it is no longer necessary to carry on with the training disciplines that saw them achieve their position of responsibility. They stop learning, stop growing and soon their leadership position is something to be defended, guarded, and the rot takes hold.

Asking most leaders what their ‘training schedules’ look like is to invite quizzical responses covered with a layer of ‘but that’s a question for aspiring leaders, not for someone like me’. After all, how often does the CEO voluntarily enroll him or herself on training courses, or lead the charge in exploring developmental opportunities? For many leaders these things are not opportunities to be grasped, but rather threats to be avoided.

Champions have to work even harder, remain hungrier and stay more focused and disciplined.

It is no different for effective leaders and the really smart leaders know it. When last did you attend a course, read a book or engage in a conversation with the express purpose of developing, growing, learning?

If you have to think about it for longer than thirty seconds, you’re not in training.

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