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Monday, April 05, 2010

Where Are You As A Leader When the Going Gets Tough?

Andrew Cosslett is CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, based near London. In this New York Times interview, he says rugby helped teach him how to deal with adversity, and to rally a team.

'Q. Was becoming a manager an easy transition for you at first?

A. I’ve always been very positive and confident, and I guess that goes back a long way. I’m highly competitive, but I’m also very relaxed with people, and that combination makes people feel quite happy to be part of my team.

I can talk about changing things for the better, even if I don’t know what it is we’re going to change. I’ll just say we’re going over there somewhere. And I don’t quite know what that looks like, but it’s going to be fantastic. And on the way we’ll love what we’re doing, have some laughs and a few beers, and it’s going to be O.K.

And I’m going to make you really happy that I turned up and sat next to you, and we went on this journey together. And that’s always worked. It goes back to sport.

Q. Talk about that.

A. Good teams are easy. But if you’ve been a captain of bad teams and you’ve had to find a way of making the team believe in itself and have a hunger to do something — which involves a lot of sacrifice and pain and training and fitness and all that stuff — that’s a lot harder. And I’ve done a fair amount of that.

That whole notion of getting beaten up and actually losing a lot and still having the vision and the confidence out front is a huge part of leadership. It’s a belief, a conviction and confidence in the future prospects of what you’re trying to do, and just keeping the flag flying no matter what’s going on around you.

I learned that by captaining bad teams. When you’re getting beaten by 60 points on a rugby field and everyone’s walking around with broken noses, it’s really hard. But you learn that you either fail or you find a way of dealing with it. And everyone’s different, so you have to know people. I think having a sense of self-awareness is very important, like how you impact each of the people you’re with differently.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

A. The whole thing about staying alive on a rugby field is about reliance on the guys around you. Each one of those people on a rugby team responds differently because it’s physically dangerous as a game. It has a tension in the changing room before you go out to play that’s not like any other sport, and I’ve played lots, because it is almost like going into battle. There’s a chance you’re going to break your neck or have a very bad injury.

You need to gel with them as a team, but each one responds individually. So it’s about seeing the world on their terms and then dealing with them on their terms, not yours.

I think you’re born with some of this as well. I’m very sensitive to how people are thinking and feeling at any given moment. That’s really helpful in business, because you pick things up very fast. You take notes on what works and what doesn’t. And then you say, hey, that worked pretty well. And you just do it again.'

For the full interview, please go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/business/04corner.html?pagewanted=1&ref=business


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