on 13 November 2012
Ably pulled together by Simon Acland, this debut book by a former member of the SAS, Floyd Woodrow, who won a DCM in Iraq, builds on the experience of an individual who has not only walked but, as Roger Lewis writes (in the foreword to the book), `fought the talk'. As Sheffield-born Bernard Hogan-Howe (the Metropolitan Police Commissioner) confirms, this is a mirror image of Floyd - insightful, imaginative, and inspirational. We can all achieve excellence in our chosen field, Floyd proposes in the final chapter.
This book illustrates, without bombarding us with a bonanza of buzzwords, how he has performed this in more than one field. The message is elegant, perceptive as well as pragmatic about elite leadership and performance - `you can too'.
But you have to be prepared to pay the price, have your North Star and put in the hard yards to balance optimism with realism. Let me acknowledge my bias. I first met Floyd he was fresh out of the SAS and a wide-ranging conversation, the first of many dialogues, ensued. When I bought the book at the end of the amazing launch event it was a highlight to discover my name in the acknowledgements. It has been a reciprocal relationship. What I learned from Floyd's counsel in the context of my ground-zero start point cis a Chrysalis Project in its own right.
Can this contemporary gladiator and former amateur boxer entertain, educate, and deliver a knockout performance in print as well as he does in person? The answer is an unequivocal `yes'. The book blends storytelling with wisdom, incisive prompts, and clarion calls to action to take you out of your comfort zone or what I call the comfortably numb zone. It's reality-style self-improvement with an elite edge and no self-promotion or abuse of the SAS cachet attached.
It's Yorkshire, plain-speaking, and integrity grounded in incredible international experiences, escapades, and adventures you might watch films about. If you want to understand how to remain focussed under pressure, this is the man. That comes across through the book and in person where he can switch from being instinctive to intellectual as well as intimate, all in the same sentence. What was also evident and is central to this book is learning and tips on how to cope with pressure. To paraphrase Clausewitz, `The calm leader is at peace with fear, danger, and confusion. The calm leader can sort through this array of conditions and apply his mental talent in any situation.' This is what Floyd exudes in real life, and how he has achieved this is covered in the book.
Andy Flower, England Cricket Coach who, has also been under pressure in his life, commends the book and has no hesitation in describing Floyd as a game-changer. But let me add too, through his tactical questioning and empathy, Floyd is a life-changer, and so is the book if approached with full-on commitment. Most important is the value the sophisticated simplicity and disarming humour of his story-telling and reflection brings. This is an action book, not an academic book, from an action man. If you want to change, then complete your wheel of life. It's common sense, as Floyd advises us, but you must at times stick to your guns, be true to yourself, and step into the pressure zone.
This book, like the man himself, is a one-off. It's one to be read and reread. Floyd typifies the ethos of the SAS as an `original' who lives up to the motto `who dares wins' as well as the personal mantra `who cares wins'. This is complemented by the dash of ruthlessness needed by all winners. He does not in person or in print waste time on pretending to be something he is not.
When I first met Floyd, I enquired what he wanted to do in his post-military career. He told me he was content to push his knowledge base in a different area and see how good he could be. He wanted to apply all his learning and development strategies from different high-pressure environments to get the best of the military and non-military worlds', he emphasized. This book is a tribute to that self-determination. The last question I asked at our first meeting was about the benefits of knowing yourself. `I like to become more self-aware and push the boundaries of my talent,' he replied. `You are able to understand you. What makes you tick. You understand when you are in difficulty. So you know that in difficult situations you can go and trust yourself.' For me it is very important', he underlined. `The more you understand about yourself, the more you can be centred and minimise external distraction because they are external, you analyse them, you take them in for what they are', he emphasized. `It's about maximising luck,' he added. `The training that you don't have means that you need more luck and eventually you won't get that luck. And I create my own luck ... And how I look at it,' his parting shot, was said with a ringing finality,' is that nobody gets in my head but me.'
That is until now. Buy, enjoy, and savour the book.
on 30 November 2012
Elite! Is all about the practicalities of getting a team to perform at the highest levels. Consistency and practice are core themes.
Floyd Woodrow strikes me as a man of action. As a former SAS Major, it fits the stereotype. His approach is yes to act, and do so quickly, but having first formed a plan carefully. This is definitely a man who thinks first. His approach to action is based on his training as a soldier, underpinned by his studies of psychology. In this, Elite! Forms an interesting contrast and complement to the thinking of sociologists such as Goffee and Jones. They see leadership as an interaction between the leader and the community of the led. For Woodrow, leadership is an individual interaction. Hence he discusses personal profiles (Myers-Briggs etc.) and focuses on the actions to get the best out of each individual as the foundation.
The book comes particularly alive when Woodrow discusses self-belief, motivation and dealing with adversity. In introduction, Ackland reports of Woodrow that he possesses an "aura of extreme calm coupled with a deep reservoir of latent energy." This allows him to focus single-mindedly on a vision that is clear, unambiguous and visible no matter what the adversity. Thus, to lead. Woodrow's interpretation of the somewhat limp "continual improvement" is continually to put himself in positions where he is tested to find how good he really is. This is not ego, but drive. The themes of commitment, pressure, optimism come in to support this. He also faces up to fear, that paralyses so much in organisational and personal life.
The book deals progressively with the leader as an individual; operating as a member of a team; leading a team; leading an organisation. The last of these is the least distinctive, being largely a report of Jim Collins "From good to great". There is a fascinating aside on the subject of negotiation, where Woodrow's security work has some striking insight into high-pressure situations. I suspect that he could sell anything to anyone, should he choose, which he does not here.
This is a practical approach underpinned by sound theory. It is written by a man who has been there and done it, learning as he went. It is mostly an easy book to read; enlivened by anecdotes based on Woodrow's military and other lives. These make for a rattling good yarn. The reader will be better equipped to lead and to know themselves at the end of this strong book.
on 21 June 2013
I have watched Floyd keep rooms (both large and small) of people captivated with his experiences and advice. Therefore, I was curious how his charisma would translate to a written format, at the same time as I was keen to get a summary of his wisdom as regards elite performance in one simple volume. "Elite" was no disappointment; it was easy to read and digest, simple to follow and powerful when applied. Frankly, the principles in this book won't be for everybody, but for those seeking to take their performance to the next level (especially those who want to improve their ability to lead under difficult circumstances), I highly recommend this book.
on 20 December 2012
One cannot disagree with many existing comments on this book, that it has an authenticity, grounded in the experiences of the primary author. A key strength of its contents is that the majority of its analyses, reflections and recommendations are not drawn solely from theoretical perspectives nor academic tomes (although existing works are brought it to support and augment arguments where appropriate), but from real life experiences and practical implementation; not just at a personal level, but as a member of an elite team, a leader and then through working with top sportspeople, sports teams and large national and international organisations. Inevitably it will read as more authentic than many other books that aspire to engender similar individual, team or organisational success.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted. For many who may be largely content with their existing effort and performance, but hope this book will give them some inside secret to help them achieve the next level of success without any pain, this is not the book they should read. However, the pain required of this book is not necessarily what you might expect given the author's tough, physical background. It is worst than that. It requires a brutal honesty from the reader as to their current clarity of vision and commitment to change. These are just two prerequisite clearly articulated in this book for the achievement of elite performance.
The book covers elite performance for three groups; individuals, teams and leaders. These are not unconnected entities and there are themes, or `golden threads', that are common to all and provide a cohesive overarching narrative.
A key message for individuals is the idea of training for real and getting in the `red zone' It made me reflect on how I have trained in the past. How can training really help if you are generally happy with your training times but they fall behind the actual times required to win the race? What is the benefit of six a-side football training in a club if there no consequence for the losing six? Losing becomes the same as winning; playing becomes the end in itself. You have to train to win (or train believing you can win), or you will probably fail when you compete for real.
The section on teams was a revelation and painful to read, as I recognised that I have been a member of a number of teams that demonstrated few (possibly none) of the attributes required to be an elite team. Faith and trust in colleagues, positive disagreement, true commitment to goals, primacy of the team and joint accountability are the behaviours and values I now recognised should be the touchstones of all teams.
However if you are or become a member of such a team, it will stand you in good stead to becoming an elite leader, as a leader is essentially still a member of a team, albeit first amongst equals. Of course, a leader has additional responsibilities over and above their other team members, not least of which is to shoulder responsibility for performance and outcomes and to be humble! It is easy to be a domineering, tyrannical leader; however that is not leadership at an elite level. If you act like that you have failed in the essentials of good leadership. This book shows there is a radically different leadership model, which delivers success (and is more likely to deliver long term success).
The book `Elite' is wide ranging but accessible and no review can really portray its uniqueness. Simon Acland has played a masterful role in bringing together the vast array of Floyd Woodrow's experiences and ideas into a comprehensible whole. He enables the ideas to flow smoothly and hang together effortlessly.
In summary, this book is challenging because it requires honesty from the individual and perhaps a major rethink of some the behaviours readers may be familiar with now as team members or leaders. It is insightful and practical. It is founded in the real experiences of someone that has, and does, function at an elite level. It is also human, as it does not shout at you. Rather it provides direction, gives you some vital tools and stands, as it were, behind you as you move towards achieving your goals.