Lessons In Leadership: Learning From The Elite

AKA: What Ant Middleton taught me about myself. Contains some strong language.

Soldiers file onto a military plane in front of a sunset.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I want to start off this series by telling you that I am not like Ant Middleton. I am not even a fraction close to someone like Ant Middleton. People who have served in the military, much more so the Special Air Service or the Special Boat Service, deserve our utmost respect. To consider myself to be on his level would be incredibly disrespectful.

Going back a few weeks, Wolfie and I sat down to watch the latest series of SAS: Who Dares Wins. If I’m honest with you, I’d always had a bit of a thing for Ant and some of the conditions they put people through. Call it my masochistic side perhaps, but I’d always fancied myself a bit of military training. I’d fail, I knew I would, I have all of the physical stamina of a sack of potatoes, but there was a certain satisfaction that came with the pain of trying. As the programme teaches, it is not about ‘winning’, but finding your own capabilities. I liked that, finding your own strengths.

“I get the feeling..” I began, “Ant wouldn’t intimidate me. I mean he would, because of his training and that’s to be respected, but above all else I think we could just sit down for a cup of tea and a chat.”

“Really?” Wolfie asked me as though I’d told him I was flying to the moon on a whim.

“Yeah, he’s a leader. But he’s also a human being. Leaders don’t fear leaders, they respect each other, as human beings.”

I’ve never been ballsy about any of the challenges. I’ve never said “that wouldn’t scare me”, because that would be untrue and dangling over a ravine, I’d be absolutely shitting myself. But fear is what keeps you focused. Fear is what powers you to succeed, as long as you use it correctly. As for swimming in oceans, cold oceans, I could also say “I have done it”, but that’s just the stupid stuff that people who think they need to prove themselves to others will sometimes do.

On Monday, I visited the local ASDA store with my Mum. We got separated for a while and I found myself browsing the book shelf. I was looking for nothing in particular (okay, I admit, I was looking for something to fill the void since Fifty Shades) when I spotted Ant Middleton’s book, First Man In. Curious about the very man I’d both desired and respected, I picked up a copy then headed for the check out.

“Have you seen him before?” I asked Mum, showing her the book.

“Oh god, yes!” she purred, “I’d love him to fuck with my head.”

Far, far too much information, and I had to admit, I felt a little bit sorry for Ant – it’s all too often that people think leaders are also bold in bedve, and even I knew that feeling.

I hopped myself into bed at about 11pm to begin my read. By 2pm on Thursday, I’ve read the whole book.

I wrote my post “What Dominant Men Can Learn From Ant Middleton” way back around the same time that the latest series of SAS: Who Dares Wins was broadcast and if I’m honest, I didn’t really know Ant’s story like I know now. Of course, this is still just a small fraction of a much bigger picture, but there is not only what wannabe Alpha males can learn from Ant Middleton.

There is also what Ant Middleton taught me about myself.

A Top Down, Bottom Up Mentality

Too many wannabe leaders believe that if you lead, others will follow. This is false and it is wrong. To lead well, you have to support your team. Without your support, your team won’t feel motivated by you. This is what I call the “Top Down vs Bottom Up” mentality,

In his book, Ant talks about encouraging fellow commandos. He talks about being prepared to support the weakest and encouraging them to believe in themselves. He shares the story of service with a fellow commando who had no confidence in himself, and who Ant took on a gruelling mission in Afghanistan. By the end of it, his fellow commando had a whole new attitude and belief in himself.

Just this morning, I lay in bed with Wolfie. Wolfie told me all about the problems that he was having at work and I, being a woman who has never worked in a customer services environment before, had little that I could really offer. Instead, I just listened while he talked. Sometimes, even just listening and allowing someone to vent is all they really need. Sometimes leading is not about leading at all, it is about supporting. You can also try asking some critical questions to help your team come up with their own solutions.

When you support your team, they will naturally turn to you to lead them. When you encourage them, they will naturally feel motivated and supported by you. Let this be your strength because when the time comes, those who listen to and respect you will naturally be inclined to follow you. After all, you made sense before, so why would you talk nonsense now?

Leading From The Middle

As a leader, sometimes your strength comes from a position of equal power. Your peers are being led by one of their own, they just haven’t realised it yet.

Throughout his book, Ant shares stories of encouraging fellow commandos as an equal, rather than a leader. My time to shine came from a similar (albeit very different) situation, during my time in secondary school.

It was summer of 2004, and my Year 9 class had been taken on a canoeing trip. I spent the last two and a half years of secondary education in a hospital education unit because of nerve damage in my wrist, and it was the worst two-and-a-half years of my life. We, a class of about seven students, canoed from our base at the marina, through Bristol Docks as far as Cheese Grater Bridge, where we turned around and canoed back to base.

On the way back to base, the weather turned against us. The calm waters were now choppy and the wind blew in our faces. Out on the open water it began raining. I was cold, wet, tired and hungry. My hands were blistered from so much rowing but I knew only one thing: I needed to get us back to the dock safely.

Emma, my on-off classmate, was up ahead and rowing dilligently. There was no force, no determination, it was as though we were out on a pleasant summer’s daytrip. All of the propulsion was coming from me.

“Emma, row please. Come on, row with me. One.. two.. row.. row..row..”

We made some progress, then Emma started giggling.

“Come on Emma, please! I’m cold and I’m wet and I’d like to go home, wouldn’t you?”

Emma carried on giggling, dipping her oar in the water occasionally. I began paddling my oar from one side to the other, propelling us forward and being mindful not to knock Emma’s head off of her shoulders in the process.

“What are you doing?” Emma asked.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if you were fucking rowing, now come on, row.. row..row!”

“Umm.. I’m telling Miss..”

“Yeah? Well I wouldn’t have said it if you were rowing. Just remember that there are two sides to every story.”

To her credit, Emma started rowing. really rowing. We were back on dry land in twenty minutes and hauling our two-man canoe out of the water. As I looked up, I could vaguely make out the other three canoes in the distance, two of which were our teachers.

A few weeks later, I received a big, brown envelope in the post. As I opened it, two laminated certificates fell out: One for canoeing skills, and one for leadership.

“What’s leadership?” I asked my Mum. It wasn’t a word I’d ever heard of before.

“It means you took control, you did well.”

“Even though I swore at Emma?”, I was amazed that she didn’t know. Maybe Emma didn’t tell, after all.

Mum giggled, “real leaders do that occasionally”.

I later learned that I was also the only student to receive one.

Even Leaders Don’t Always Get It Right

Most recently, I’ve gone through a bit of a dilemma in my blogging life. I left a comment for a blogger friend which I thought was a spot of contstructive critcism. Unfortunately, my blogger friend really took it to heart and we haven’t spoken since. I’ve since been told, by a few people, that criticising others on the comments wasn’t exactly my finest move.

Fair enough, I know know, and I have a three-post day planned (including this one) to share with you all what I have since learned.

In his book, Ant talks about his filming of Mutiny, a recreation of the voyage by Captain Bligh. He admits that his own stubbornness narrowly cost the health of his fellow crew, forcing him to rethink how much he was willing to recreate conditions without jeopardising his men. He also recounts how he hit a police officer and the time he spent in prison. Leaders make mistakes, real leaders own up to them and learn from them.

The Art Of Waiting Patiently

In his book, Ant shares how he was called upon to act as a private investigator and to help reunite a young girl with her mother. In his story, Ant also shares that what won in the end was patience, rather than bloodshed and warfare.

For my part, I’ve recently had an incident in which I called upon my local authority to resolve my neighbour’s messy garden. Sadly, when I last emailed the officer responsible, her implication was that I was impatient, so I decided to do exactly the same as what Ant had done, and be patient.

Of course, I’m pretty sure I know how this case is going to end, but I’m willing to be proven wrong and I even want to be proven wrong. If, however, I am right, then I will be able to rain down with, in the words of Trump, “fire and fury”. Not a man I’d generally like to quote on my blog, but on this occasion I’ll let it slide.

To Know Thyself

Going back to the incident with my blogger friend, one of the things I’ve found so hard over the past few days is to overcome the idea that I acted “horribly”. To me, and my highly-sensitive brain, that’s like being labelled forthrightly as a horrible person, except I know that I’m not. I’m not a bad person, I just did a bad thing.

In Ant’s book, he talks about being able to criticise yourself and know all of the bits you don’t like about yourself. When you do that, you harness the power to change. When you own your flaws, you own the power to work on them and you prevent anyone from being able to use them against you to bring you down.

I know that I’m fat, I know that I’m impatient. I know that I’m stubborn and opinionated, too. When you own who you are, you can begin working on improving yourself as a person. What got me about the word “horrible” was that it wasn’t a word I’d ever heard used to describe me. “Kind” is, and “horrible” lies sharply in contrast to that.

 

The Power Of Positivity

Above all else, one of the most prominent things that Ant and I share is a sense of humour, and that’s something that I never want to change about myself. Even on the most gruelling days, the outlook you have and the way you treat life defines exactly the person you’ll become.

One of my late father’s favourite sayings, and something that I will always remember him for, was “worse things have happened at sea”. Now, I’m sure that for Ant, that would be no laughing matter (or perhaps somewhat relatable, who knows?), but I’m not here to talk about that. My point is, whatever you think is bad, believe me, it could be worse. When my father died, I reminded myself that he was my Dad and that I needed to act with proportion. Yes, I was sad, but there are people in this world who have come out of car crashes and lost all but themselves in a blink of an eye. I could take my grief and be sad for the rest of my life, or I could use my grief to power me on.

I stood beside my father’s oak coffin on that fateful day, unsure what I wanted to say for myself. You never know what you’re going to do or say until it happens to you, it’s just not something that you rehearse. Saying goodbye to that parent who stood by you through thick and thin and fully believed in you was never going to be easy.

Dad had made me, me, and his death had, has, made me angry. If I’ve learned one thing from Ant though, it’s not to let this anger get the better of me. This anger is my energy, it’s my energy to succeed. I have a choice now between determination and self-destruction, and I can choose whether I want to follow or whether want to lead.

I am a leader, but I’m not the best. If you want to learn from the elite just as I did, Ant’s books, First Man In and The Fear Bubble are both available on Amazon.

Be Bold, Be Bright, Be Beautiful,

Helen xx

 

 

 

 

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