Issue No. 313 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting includes a hot contender for my 2014 book-of-the-year. Don’t skip this one—it’s an extraordinary read on team-building and leadership. And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
"Can't Put This Book Down!"
Oh, my. How do I describe this book—and the extraordinary value of reading it together with your team? If I write a dull, been-there-read-that review, you might surmise the book is equally dull. It’s not!
What if…I bet the farm and predicted that The Boys in the Boat will be my 2014 book-of-the-year pick? (Would that get your attention?)
What if…I said this true story of “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” included my pick for the most exquisite description—I’ve ever read—of what a high performance team looks like?
What if…I told you that Bill Butterworth, author of On-the-Fly Guide to Building Successful Teams, and a top-rated national speaker, wrote me recently after I reviewed Unbroken? He noted, “Unbroken is the best book I've read in the last couple of years! Wanna know what comes in at Number Two? It's called The Boys in the Boat. I couldn't put it down. Everybody I've recommended it to hates my guts because they can't put it down once they start it.”
Bill Butterworth, by the way, was awarded The Hal Holbrook Award by the International Platform Association, whose past and present members include Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Bob Hope, and Elizabeth Dole. (I’m just throwing that in. See my "P.S." below.)
Now…back to the boat book. Author Daniel James Brown writes narrative nonfiction books and his primary interest as a writer is “in bringing compelling historical events to life as vividly and accurately” as he can. Trust me, he can!
Back before American football owned it all, sports fans in the 1930s (a tough time) embraced university rowing teams with remarkable fanaticism. In Seattle, the lake shore crowds at the eight-oar crew races between the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley, rivaled the “12th man” stupor over the NFL 2014 Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks.
What if…I were still leading a team? Here’s how I would leverage the power of this book:
• Buy one book (or Kindle version) for each team member—and provide a “read and reflect” learning tool.
• Plan a team-building retreat in the next 30 to 90 days.
• At the retreat, invest time every morning and evening—listening, listening, and more listening as our team talked about “Elements of Teamwork,” as described in The Boys in the Boat.
• Enjoy every afternoon in an experiential team-building activity: Rowing (if possible), ropes courses, zip lines, climbing walls, confidence courses, etc. (Here’s a resource if you live in Southern California.)
Really—the insights, the drama, the real life stuff-in-the-trenches, is so, so insightful. Some, like Butterworth, will read the book non-stop. Others might enjoy slowly savoring each chapter—including the PowerPoint-worthy insights from George Yeoman Pocock, the master craftsman and leading designer and builder of racing shells in the 20th Century:
“To be of championship caliber, a crew must have total confidence in each other, able to drive with abandon, confident that no man will get the full weight of the pull…”
“Pocock-built shells began to win U.S. Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships in 1923.” According to Wikipedia, “he achieved international recognition by providing the eight-oared racing shells which won gold medals in the 1936 Summer Olympics and again in 1948 and 1952. In this era, nearly every collegiate and sport rowing program in America used wooden shells and oars built by Pocock.” (Check out the mission statement of Pocock Racing Shells--still in business, 100 years later.)
Trust me—the reverential side trips down historical alleys are stunning. Brown excels in fluid detail. One media interviewer called the book "goose-bump-inducing." He skips nothing: Hitler's pre-war propaganda machine; the puff pieces at the 1936 Olympics; the mindset of a 62-foot, hand-built racing shell designer; the post-Depression era--and how families coped; how the homeless survived. And the heart-thumping collegiate races--from inside the boat:
The writing: elegant.
The insights: elevating.
Here’s a keeper from pages 234-235. Listen to the wisdom as Master Boatbuilder Pocock coaches Joe, a young rower with promise and dreams—but a nasty childhood:
“He suggested that Joe think of a well-rowed race as a symphony, and himself just one player in the orchestra. If one fellow in an orchestra was playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece would naturally be ruined.
“That’s the way it was with rowing. What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew. It wasn’t just the rowing but his crewmates that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt.
“Pocock paused and looked up at Joe. ‘If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.’”
Then this clincher:
“He told Joe to be careful not to miss his chance. He reminded him that he’d already learned to row past pain, past exhaustion, past the voice that told him it couldn’t be done. That meant he had an opportunity to do things most men would never have a chance to do. And he concluded with a remark that Joe would never forget.
“'Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.’”
To order from Amazon, click on the graphic below for The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown. Note: As of this review, the book has 6,273 reviews on Amazon—a stunning number! Even more stunning—97% of the reviewers rated the book with either 5-star or 4-stars. It's on both the NY Times (#2, behind Unbroken) and Wall Street Journal best-selling lists again this week.
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P.S. Bill Butterworth was not (to my knowledge) in that 1936 boat, but he is a championship speaker. In his youth, had someone put a coxswain’s megaphone in his mouth…just imagine! Butterworth also added this LOL note in his email to me: “No payment to me is necessary although I know you'll be using it as one of your newsletter books and so please include my name, website info and short bio of how I can be of help to all of your mailing list through my speaking, writing and ghostwriting.”
Sure, Bill! Here you go:
BILL BUTTERWORTH - Website
Keynote Speaker, Author, Ghost Writer,
Personal Coach for Speakers
While I’m cranking out the promo copy, I’ll add another review of a great Butterworth book: The Short List: In a Life Full of Choices, There Are Only Four That Matter. (No charge, Bill.)
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Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Unlike most other sports, says the author, “One of the fundamental challenges in rowing is that when any one member of a crew goes into a slump the entire crew goes with him.” How do individual slumps affect morale on your team—or in your family?
2) One of the University of Washington coxswains would often shout to the eight oarsmen, “MIB! MIB! MIB!” Brown writes, “The initialism stood for ‘mind in boat.’ It was meant as a reminder that from the time an oarsman steps into a racing shell until the moment that the boat crosses the finish line, he must keep his mind focused on what is happening inside the boat.” What acronym could your team use to keep everyone focused?
Your Team's Time: Focused or Misaligned? - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
In my cycle through the 20 buckets, here’s a time-leveraging tool from the Team Bucket, Chapter 9, in Mastering the Management Buckets:
What’s holding your team back—from experiencing extraordinary results and harmonious relationships? Sometimes…it’s a lack of focus. Other times…there’s a misalignment between results and focused time.
If time is an issue, download the worksheet, “The 21 Time Blocks Toward a God-honoring Balanced Life,” from Chapter 9, the Team Bucket. This tool will help each team member affirm a commitment to limit work hours to "x" times blocks per week (out of a possible 21).
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