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Leadership lessons from yacht racing

A yacht racing competition may not sound like it has much relevance to everyday office life. But the experience of skippers and their crews who take part in the annual Clipper Round the World Yacht Race contains some important lessons for all leaders, according to research from Ashridge Business School

Their new report The Challenge of Leading: Insights from the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race examined the challenges and routines of the teams who took part in the 2011-2012 race, which involved circumnavigating the globe over 12 months and covering 40,000 miles.
As usual, each of the 10 teams was made up of a diverse mix of professional sailors and amateurs of all ages. The study examined how people from such wide-ranging conditions lived together under pressured conditions and dealt with challenges such as extreme weather, disrupted sleep and claustrophobic living conditions.

As they conducted 77 interviews with the skippers and their crews during the race, the researchers heard how good leadership was vital in motivating teams and getting them to achieve their maximum potential – lessons that are useful to leaders from all fields.
The research found that there are three key leadership lessons that can be taken away from the race:  Alignment – the ability to meet multiple expectations and draw people together in pursuit of common objectives;  Capability – the ability to develop clear and consistent processes that reduce friction and uncertainty and enable people to work and learn together; and Autonomy – the ability to build trust and give people the discretion to organise themselves appropriately within a broad framework.

“The biggest thing I’ve learnt is how to manage people,” said Richard Hewson, the winning skipper of the race. “It is up to you to try and manage your crew, stimulating and teaching them without the ability to give them any reward or punishment. To learn how to do that and have these management skills gained from the Clipper Race means that I can now go into pretty much any company and manage a very large team.”

To read more about the findings of the research, visit Ashridge Business School website 




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