Dover. The day of our Channel swim. The clouds are heavy and there’s a residual swell still rolling in. We climb into the support boat, declare our swim order and gently steam towards our start point and I pull up my hood against the wind. I feel lightheaded after only four hours sleep and can’t focus. My head is filled with a secret hope that our attempt will be cancelled due to poor conditions.
No such luck, and we arrive at Samphire Hoe to start the swim in the half light of near dawn. As leader, I elected to be the first swimmer. It’s time to clip on lights and goggles, strip down to trunks and prepare to get into the water – WTF am I doing? I’m in such a state that later, I can’t recall the feel and temperature of the water. I swim like a madman from boat to beach, face planting on the pebbles, trying to stand up and pretending to be in control. I can’t stop shaking. My guts are rolling with nerves and adrenaline as I step clear of the water line.
Fortunately there’s no time to dwell, the hooter sounds and it’s on!
I plunge back into the swell, taking on a couple of slugs of sea water in the first couple of strokes. I try to count to 60 to mark a minute, but can’t concentrate. I’m struggling to breathe with the occasional retch of sea water coming back up. I realise I’m already out of my depth both literally and metaphorically. Anxiety takes hold, I’m not tough enough for this, I’m sinking. I start to shout at myself, ‘just swim, don’t you f#@king dare let the team down’. Occasionally I add, ‘you’ll be able to breathe properly later’. I hope it’s true because 15 minutes in, I’m ill from the amount of sea water I’ve swallowed, retching under water every now and then and my whole body is screaming out to stop, but I keep going, keep going, keep going…
Best practice starts at the top. Leading by example is a great motivator. Good leaders are not born, they’re trained. No-one in any position should be left just to logon and carry on. This includes the CEO, the management and the executive positions. Our swim team trained long and hard for our attempt and our training gave us the confidence to keep going, when we faced the
enormity of the English Channel.
All professional team members are picked for their good skills and knowledge, ensuring they continue to grow in expertise means regular training and coaching. Unique company knowledge, and the skills and experience required for a business’ specific growth strategies need to be learned and practiced.
A well-trained workforce, who know what they’re doing, understand what’s expected of them and expect to be responsible and held accountable, will outperform any other team, under any other style of leadership or team management. They make their own success because it matters and they have ‘skin in the game’.
Thorough training builds confidence. It ensures you’re able to make good decisions in the toughest circumstances and swim through critical moments, without it, the danger of sinking is very, very real.