• Mark Topley

To release the power in your team, try softer

I had the privilege of spending last weekend in Kent, on the coast at Sandwich as the guest speaker for the annual ITI UK & Ireland Golf Championship.

Beautiful weather, beautiful surroundings and great company made it a memorable weekend, and I was made to feel very welcome by my hosts Joe Bhatt and James Hamill.

As you’d expect, much of the conversation over the first couple of drinks each evening was about how people had fared on the very testing links courses that typify this part of the world, and the rough, which had, according to some, had magnetic qualities, featured highly.

Chatting to one of the golfers, we discussed the differences between the Pro game and the amateur one, and the conversation landed in Rory MacIlroy’s swing.

Apparently, despite being one of the lost powerful hitters in the game, at the top of his swing, he grips the club so lightly that it would be easy to pluck it from his hands.

To gain power, he holds it loose, not tight.

So much of our understanding of how you wield power focusses on needing to grip hard, to force things to do what you want, and keep them under close control. And yet here, in the golf swing, is a contradictory, counterintuitive example.

To gain maximum power, Rory maintains a light grip, guides the arc of the club, and relies on timing rather than brute force. It’s these repeated actions which establish his muscle memory, and that’s what makes the power happen.

I presented on Corporate Social Responsibility to the group on Saturday night, and particularly drew out the leadership lessons for the attendees. About how CSR can be a vehicle to inspire, care for, provide purpose and provide boundaries for the team. After the talk I had some great conversations with people, who sadly reflected their experience working for bosses who still use a command and control style, and the restrictive, demoralising effect it has.

There are three things that the chat about Rory, and my late night reflections on bosses gave me:

  1. As Henry Cloud says, with your team, you get what you expect or allow. So you have to create expectations and boundaries for your team. You have to establish the ‘rules of the game’ which everyone will subscribe to (or leave).

  2. When it comes to execution – although it’s your job to guide the ‘arc of the club’, don’t grip too tight.

  3. And to establish your team’s ‘muscle memory’, repetition and reinforcement are key. You simply have to keep reminding people of what’s expected, what a good job looks like, and how much you value and believe in them.

If we want to unleash the real power in our teams – try softer.

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