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All Thoughts

The Last Man

Consultant, PSD

Many will say the best position is to be the star performer of a team. A genius of the game/sport, but is it? I would argue it is quite possibly the complete opposite. Every team has their last man, an individual who struggles to make the boat, relay, team etc.…, yet is as vital to the team’s performance and success as any other member.

What is the best position to be in a team sport?

As a perspective what would you rather be, the star, who stands head and shoulder above the team in terms of talent, skill, and performance? Or the last man, who once in the team is surrounded by giants capable of success and performance on a level unachievable if you were the star?

Many will disagree with me, some will say there is no small team member, and that every member is equal. I admire those people, capable of such pious, ideological morals. Personally as an athlete I struggled every day, I was not the best, I believed I could be, and strived for the pinnacle of my sport, yet in reality the day I sat on top of the world I was the last man, all be it in an extraordinary boat of individuals, but still the last.

6 Weeks before the World Championships in 2013, our boat (all Olympic medalists 3 Gold 4 Bronze and myself) failed, 4th at a World Cup with a seemingly unpassable mountain ahead. I was petrified, as the weakest link I considered my place under threat. A coach had previously asked/told me ‘how do you make a boat faster?’ The answer quickly followed ‘Find a better man.’ Which in essence sums up the harsh reality of sport and business, and on paper, I was the man to replace.

I constantly express the crossover of transferable skills between the sporting and business world, and in this instant it resonates louder than any other, both businesses and sporting teams will improve if they continue to ‘find a better man’. 

We have all witnessed micromanagement, managers who believe they are pretty good at doing a portfolio of roles and capable of conducting their employees' jobs in a clearer, more decisive and efficient manner.

Of course, no one can do everything, so they allow people do their jobs, even though they feel the results would probably be better if they’d have done them. For instance looking at a salesman and thinking, "I'm better at selling our product than he is, but I don't have time to go on every sales call." Or looking at a receptionist and think about their excellent phone manners.

And they are probably right. Why would anyone really great want to work for that kind of boss? Personally the best team I have ever been in, is where I constantly strived to prove myself, looking around at giants (quite literally in the rowing sense) of the sport and wanting to prove my worth. So why is there a stigma of being the last man? Should we not embrace and actively create this scenario?

As a CEO, Chair, or MD we should surely surround ourselves with individuals whose skills, business acumen, talent, drive, etc. either has the potential or does in fact excel your own. Who are capable of doing the most mundane and complex of tasks better than yourself, in effect we should lose our ego and understand the need to build the strongest team around you, who bring complementary skill-sets to the business, and in effect make yourself redundant.

My sporting career spanned almost 2 decades, I constantly strived to be the best, and sometimes I believed I was. Yet it was in understanding my failures, accepting my short comings and humbling my ego in the knowledge that I needed others better than myself to win, that I actually did. In doing so I lived in the company of Giants for a year, the journey we took flowed through exceptional highs and reality checking lows, yet the team our coach had created, blended to be a cohesive unit capable of producing dominate performances under immense pressure.

‘If we surround ourselves with people smaller than ourselves we become a team of dwarves, but if we surround ourselves with people bigger than us we become a Team of Giants’

Once we had pushed off for our final, Jürgen was able to sit back and trust in his Team of Giants, safe in the knowledge we were able to excel without him. Made redundant through his own planning.

In Reality every strategy in sport and business has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Yet I know I would rather come to work every day dealing with the problems presented by leading a group of high-potential, outstanding achievers, rather than a group of mediocre performers. How about you?

Find out more about PSD here.