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Strategic Discipline Blog

Get Your Boys in the Boat – Strategic Discipline Builds Harmonious Leadership Teams

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, Apr 6, 2017

The Boys in the Boat - Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown.jpg“Rowing a race is an art, not a frantic scramble. It must be rowed with head power as well as hand power. From the first stroke all thoughts of the other crew must be blocked out. Your thoughts must be directed to you and your own boat, always positive, never negative.”

~ George Yeoman Pocock, The Boys in the Boat

Each year I read between 36-50 books, rarely are they not related to business. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown I believed would be an exception. Verne Harnish mentioned the book in one of his weekly newsletters.  I’d not picked it up until during a flight delay in Minneapolis where I briefly met a gentleman from Rockwell Collins, who happened to be reading the book.  I asked how he licked it.  When he said he loved it, I decided to download it to my Kindle.

The book contains so many metaphors to business, it’s difficult not to become completely entranced in Brown’s brilliant story. Brown chronicles the demanding trials of one of oarsmen struggle to make the crew, intertwined with the Great Depression, his traumatic family story, the impending menace of Nazi Germany, and the deception Hitler’s Olympic Games charade intended to hide.

The 1936 Washington University team won Gold in Munich, Germany.  How they achieved it is a compelling story, not unlike the strife, turmoil and battles each of us encounter as we build a team to achieve success in our businesses.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Should you feel rowing is unlike business, I share two quotes taken from the book:

Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also be as one.

~ George Yeoman Pocock

Harmony, balance, and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that’s why an oarsman, when he goes out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That’s what he gets from rowing.

~ George Yeoman Pocock

Truth is I could fill this entire blog and then some with excerpts and quotes from the book equating rowing with business.

Rowing a boat with nine others is beyond challenging. George Yeoman Pocock, the master boat builder (shells) mentors Joe, the protagonist oarsmen in the book.  He advises Joe to think of a well-rowed race as a symphony. He is just one player in the orchestra. If one fellow in an orchestra is playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece is ruined. It’s the same with rowing (or business). What matters more than how hard a man rows is how well everything he does in the boat harmonizes with what the other fellows are 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.

The story is about building trust to win.

Harmonizing Your Team

five_dysfunctions_of_a_team.jpgPatrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team pyramid reflects the same levels of growth the Washington State Olympic Champion Crew needed to discover in order to win the Gold.

Lencioni’s provides five exercises in Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators to lead a leadership team to achieve higher levels of trust, commitment, accountability, overcome conflict, and ultimately produce results.

Strategic Discipline

Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking.

~ Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The very first trust building exercise in Lencioni’s field book on the Five Dysfunctions is all about learning to understand the different personalities that make up your leadership team.  Once you understand each team members background, their motivation, the subtle nuances driving behavior, you are able to harmonize and work better toward a common goal.

Positioning Systems’ Rockefeller Habits/Scaling Up coaching specializes in the Execution Decision, something we define as Strategic Discipline: Priority, Metrics and Meeting Rhythms

BE-CI Five Dysfunctions of A Team Nov. 2015.jpgThis essential decision forces teams to work together to determine an Annual and Quarterly One Thing priority.  It requires each team member to identify success criteria for each priority set, be accountable to achieving it, then follow and report weekly in the disciplined meeting rhythms.

In November of 2015 BE-CI Engineering began working with Positioning Systems with a two-day private workshop.  As part of the leadership team’s preparation they completed the Five Dysfunctions of a Team assessment.  You can see the results from their initial assessment here.

BE-CI is an aggressive growing firm, expanding into one new location each year. They typify the kind of growth company Gazelles and Positioning Systems works with best.  They were not meeting weekly, and establishing this rhythm, was an immediate priority. The BE-CI leadership team worked extremely well in their silos, and adapting to this new rigor, was not without its bumps and bruises. The group is young, motivated to succeed and resilient.

BE-CI Five Dysfunctions of A Team Improvement March 2017.jpgThis past quarter we again had the leadership team complete the assessment.  At the time the team had not completed any of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team exercise mind you, yet you can see by their results, this team is much more in harmony.  Best of all they are exceeding their revenue goals and consistently achieving their quarter and Annual One Thing.

Just as in the book Boys in the Boat, working together toward a common goal requires appreciation, understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of each team member.  Strategic Discipline builds these qualities through the rigorous discipline required to meet, agree on, and commit to specific leadership targets.

Would your business benefit by getting every member of your team harmoniously rowing in the same direction?  Contact for a short meeting or free Four Decisions needs assessment of your business.

Topics: Strategic Discipline, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Leadership DNA, leadership commitment, Effective Leadership, leadership meetings, The Boys in the Boat

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Certified Gazelles Coach

Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

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