Episode #301: James Kerr – How To Create An Ethos Of Excellence (Legacy)

James Kerr is a bestselling author, speaker, and consultant who helps create high performance cultures for elite teams and organizations. He is the author of the global best-seller ‘Legacy’ which provides a unique insight into the most successful sporting team, The All Blacks – and has worked with some of the world’s most exceptional organizations, from Tier One Special Forces to Formula One teams, Premiership Football managers to Olympic teams, Google to Spotify to Boeing.  He asks: What do all great teams have in common? What is the Being of Team? How does change happen? How can you create a culture of initiative, innovation and adaptation? How have we got leadership upside down? How do leaders create leaders? How do they create common cause? How do you prepare for and perform under pressure?

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“A leader is responsible for the result.  Good or bad.”

Show Notes:

  • Commonalities of sustaining excellence:
    • Humility – An ego-less approach. “Serve to lead” mentality
    • Curiosity – Following passion
    • Value Excellence – Focus on doing the small things right
    • These are transferable principles to any organization
  • The “All Blacks” rugby team “are our Gods in New Zealand.”
    • They’ve won just under 80% of their games in history
    • Scored twice as many points as their competitors
    • The most successful sports team of all time
  • Sustained high performance
    • Mana = The God within.  The spirit… The ethos that creates excellence decade after decade
  • Surprises? “The softness in this hard game.  A love, a brotherhood, connection, meaning, caring for one another.”
  • How have they sustained excellence?
    • Tradition
    • Starts at the top with the leaders
    • Breaking down old orthodox
    • Like the British SAS – “Rank but no class”
    • Leadership group — It’s not just one coach.  Everyone’s ideas are valued.
  • It’s a player led team – “Positive power of peer pressure.”  That feeling of not wanting to let one of your teammates down
    • “You fight more for the person in the foxhole next to you.”
    • The Spartan sword and shield.  You can lose you sword, but you can never lose your shield.  That helps protect your brother.
  • Accountability – There is leadership at every level
    • It empowers the individual in a project bigger than themselves
    • How does this work in business?
      • Helps them step up, take ownership, be responsible
  • “A leader is responsible for the result.  Good or bad.”
  • How to build the culture you desire within a huge organization where the leaders don’t have similar beliefs?
    • Create meaning for your team: Mastery, Autonomy, Relatedness/Connection
    • Answer, ‘why are we doing this?’
    • Create meaning, create history, create an exceptional environment for performance, a commanders intent
    • Build your own culture from within and watch it permeate out to the rest of the organization
  • The 4 keys to storytelling:
    • The story must be credible and relevant – in Aristotelian poetics, it must have ethos (an authority and understanding of the subject) and logos (it must make rational sense)
    • It must be Visual and Visceral – appealing to the auditory, visual and kinesthetic receivers in our brains. It must seize our hearts as well as impress our heads.  In terms of Aristotelian poetics, it must have pathos (it must be felt)
    • It must be flexible and scalable – as easily told around a campfire as across the boardroom table.  This implies to the use of simple, everyday language and ideas.
    • And it must be useful – able to turn vision into action; purpose into practice – acting as a transferor of meaning between one domain and another, between ‘you’ world and ‘mine,’ between the ‘leader’ and the ‘led.’
      • Examples: “Put a Ford in every driveway.” “Disney creates magic everyday.  Smiles on faces of families.”
    • Stories are sutures and threads — little pieces of fabric that put things together
      • “Great leaders are great storytellers”
  • “Leaders keep a blue head.” Wise leaders seek to understand how the brain reacts to stress and practice simple, almost meditative techniques to stay calm, clear and connected They use maps (an operating system), mantras, and anchors to navigate their way through highly pressurized situations.”
    • The ability to govern our emotions
    • Using box breathing like the US Special Forces — Control your breath
  • Becoming automatic – The Greek word, automatus means self-thinking.  Prepare so you create instincts and do not have to think when on the game field.  Make the practice harder than the games to be overly prepared.  This relates to the business world — “She who prepares the most, wins.”
    • Focus on fundamentals — the basics.  As a skier, set your edges before every time down the mountain.
    • During the after action review, analyze not just how you performed, but how you prepared before the performance
  • Leaders are teachers: “When the environment is dedicated to learning, the score takes care of itself.  The ability to help people self-actualize their goals underlies the single aspect of my abilities and the label I value most — teacher.” — Bill Walsh
  • The Navy SEALs look for expert learners — The best way to grow your business is to grow your people
  • Create a learning environment… A questioning environment — To figure out a better way and to grow, learn, improve.
  • The coach of the All Blacks would go through practices trying to never tell anyone what to do… He would only ask questions and help them figure it out on their own.
    • “People will rise to a challenge if it’s their challenge.”
  • “Sweep the sheds.” Leaders do more, they take pride in their work and their environment
    • The leaders of the team would clean up after themselves… It was personal discipline, they wanted to leave their environment better than they found it.  Their legacy.
    • The British SAS – Humility
    • Navy SEALs – The trident.  The eagle head is bowed to remain humble
  • Grandmother’s advice:  “Always be useful”
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea

“You never conquer a mountain.  You stand on the summit a few brief minutes, and then the wind blows your footsteps away.”

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