GEIF Manager, Grant Hawthorne, reviews the Breakfast Meeting
The speaker was management consultant Humphrey Walters.
Hearing Humphrey Walters’ terrifying descriptions of being continually
battered by 70foot waves in the South Atlantic you’d wonder why
he put himself through such agony. Why would anyone in their
right mind volunteer to race the toughest sea route round the
world? Simple: Humphrey Walters was a man on a mission. The mission?
To test his management theories to destruction.
For those of us who have endured more than our fair share of "management
theory", Humphrey Walters’ presentation to the May Breakfast
Meeting was like a breath of fresh sea air. It’s all very well
to have a man in a suit telling you how important "teamwork" is,
but when that theory has been tested in a life and death scenario
it takes on a whole new meaning.
Humphrey was part of the crew of the Ocean Rover in the 33,000
mile BT Global Challenge. The crew was randomly picked from a
group of volunteers – an experience which "taught him more
about human nature and team-building than 30 years in business".
When your "buddy" is, quite literally, your lifeline
you don’t let him down.
Humphrey said that even the skipper of their boat – a highly
experienced navy veteran – acknowledged the ruthlessness of the
situation: "never in my life have I seen anything so hostile
or with such awesome power. It was trying to kill me and it surrounded
me every minute. I am convinced that there will never be a problem
so severe in real life that will compare to surviving in the
southern Indian Ocean".
Humphrey drew direct parallels between his experience on the
Global Challenge and the everyday happenings in modern business:
where company survival depends on inspired, sound leadership,
personal motivation and quality teamwork. The yachts could be
seen to represent competitive organisations, the crew were the
employees and the unpredictable oceans were the complex environment
in which they operate.
Back on dry land Humphrey has assimilated his experience into
MAST his international Management And Skills Training consultancy.
The key lesson that the race taught him was in teamwork – assembling,
running and maintaining the right team. He also found that it
was crucial to know how to behave within a team – that such niceties
as punctuality, courtesy and knowing how to apologize can make
all the difference.
From the reaction afterwards I think it is safe to say that
Humphrey’s speech went down a storm. Most of us will never get
the chance to test out Humphrey’s leadership advice in the South
Atlantic (and, let’s be honest, who’d want to?) but it gave some
real food for thought. I can personally say that I have changed
one or two small things in my life as a result.
Humphrey is taking part in the next BT Global Challenge later
in the year, but has decided to do only one leg of the race.
While all of us will be sitting down to our turkey dinners this
Christmas, spare a thought for Humphrey who will be a small dot
somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean. I’m pretty sure he’ll
be enjoying every minute.