Develop and Deploy

Well, I survived. No, it wasn’t anywhere near as physically demanding as last year’s adventure in the highlands of Scotland but it was not easy either. I should have guessed by the slogan on the website ‘Develop and Deploy’. I am fascinated by so many military things but when it comes to actual deployment, I find myself wondering what on earth I was thinking! I had to constantly remind myself, ‘It’s not meant to be easy. No pain, no gain’ and all of that.

James Ray, the hugely likeable, charismatic but also naturally contemplative leader and founder of 4MUK– the organisation that organises these Extreme Character Challenges in the UK called it a “self facilitating journey”.

In other words, this was going to be a classic case of “however much you invest in the process, you will reap a huge personal dividend.”

As with before however, I can in all integrity, only reveal snippets of the experience as one of the primary drivers of all XCC experiences is the element of surprise and how you as the individual deal with that challenge that is suddenly looming in front of you.

I prepared as meticulously as I knew how and was feeling very high levels of excitement and anticipation all the way to Liverpool Street Station. After a couple of cryptic clues to oil the wheels of wonder and intrigue still further, we were finally given a platform number and six minutes to get on the train.

Despite my preparations however, a great deal of this went out of the proverbial window after the first RV point. I can’t exactly tell you why but suffice it to say, when I look back, a lot of life simply does not pan out the way we planned does it?

The question then becomes, ‘What are you going to do about it, and how can you work towards turning it around as a positive?’

As ever, there was a lot of walking but this time, it was mostly warm and sunny – always my preference – in contrast to freezing fog, wind and rain.

There was however, plenty of water involved and surprisingly, I loved every minute of it! Many of you will have hopefully read my blog about what it felt like to complete the Blenheim triathlon and how much pain that put me through. My attitude towards swimming has never been the same since and this held me in good stead over the course of this leadership challenge, put it that way.

Another obstacle that I think I can reveal to you was a herd of steers who didn’t take too kindly to our gang of five ushering them away from the gate we needed to access. Our elder statesman, Geoff (see below) took charge at this point and bravely came through the gate last and survived.

Along the way, we shared stories of our lives and the journey we have been on until this point. In the midst of the struggles and potential sources of stress, this is the ultimate leveller and instigator of true camaraderie, heart to heart intimacy and is always my favourite element of experiences like this.

In our group alone, we had a man who had raised £20,000 for international charities on two different occasions and is now energetically raising money for a defibrillator to be installed outside their local convenience store.

Another guy who survived being blown up in his military truck that landed nose down in the road and lost none of the men under his command. His latest mission is to help rescue 1000 addicts off the streets of Brighton.

Someone else who left their native country because some bad people were potentially coming after his Dad and therefore him also.

I could say more but that would involve revealing things that are not so obviously anonymous.

What I will say is we all went in at the deep end, shared our hearts as well as our hurts, and this always helps the next man to step up and be honest and vulnerable.

Finally, we stood in a circle of five and stepped into a metaphorical but equally, very real arena where we declared our dreams, plans and intentions going forwards and why they mean so much to us. Our small band of brothers then challenged us, forcing the questions that we often refuse to ask ourselves.

‘Why do you want it? How much are you willing to give? Tell us the plan and when you are going to deliver it? Is that realistic? Who else is going to help you?’

With barriers broken down by all that had taken place before, these men were driving each other deeper still, towards the destination that lies inside the heart of every man if he has the courage to confess it and dare to be challenged.

Develop and Deploy‘ is the headline for this experience and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who like me, needs that push to go further and for longer.

The Southgate Redemption

It was 26th June, 1996, and England were yet again pitted against the Germans in a terribly tense penalty shoot-out. I remember so well – not just because we lost – but also because my eldest son was born about ninety minutes after the final penalty was taken, and we rushed off to the hospital!

Gareth Southgate remembers that night well too, due to the fact that he found himself a member of the worst club in English football history – those who missed their penalty in a major competition and cost England the match.

Ever since he was appointed caretaker and then permanent manager of the England football team, I have taken so much more notice of him than ever before. It comes with the territory; but more than that, with every passing interview accompanying the slow but steady progress of an exceptionally young team, I have watched and listened with increasing respect for this young manager.

He always speaks in mature, measured tones and – during interviews – does not get drawn into answers that will not help anyone.

He doesn’t blame, he doesn’t criticise.

He rarely accepts credit – acknowledging that success is always all about the players… and when defeat comes, then it is his turn.

As manager, he accepts responsibility for the loss.

What I admire most of all about Gareth Southgate is his bold innovation and creativity. He has spoken much, during this World Cup, about the players “writing their own stories” and not being “defined by the past”. On the dreaded prospect of penalties, he has spoken of the players “owning the process” through diligent practise and not simply leaving it to chance on the night.

And so, when England magnificently won the penalty shoot out against Colombia this week, millions of people around the nation – and ex-pats all over the world – will have jumped for joy (or thumped their pouffes like I did!) and been pleasantly surprised by a team of very young players who held their nerve and secured a win.  They – no doubt – also felt extremely pleased and proud of the manager who never got the chance to redeem his own penalty miss personally but has gone one better in bringing  a whole team to victory.

He has instilled in his players a belief that, perhaps, hasn’t truly been there before since 1966. A belief that says…

They can play exciting and intelligent football and win.

They can even win on penalties if they have to – and who knows how far they can go now?

As a leadership lesson, this is priceless I think.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” we were told as children; and this is good, old-fashioned advice.

What is far better, however, is if at first you don’t succeed, help others to succeed with you… and in so doing, there is redemption multiplied.

The Southgate Redemption.