Adrian Webster, Polar Bear Pirates: Rising to the Challenge Together

Early in Adrian’s corporate career, he realised he didn’t have the budget to get ahead of his competition. There was always someone snapping at his heels throwing more money at success, and no way he could just expect to beat them without getting clever.

But he did spot that the biggest asset for the business was the people in his team, and the usually under-utilised potential they all held.

Throughout his career in business and in his collaboration with brain scientists to explore what it is that makes success, he has made many discoveries, some of which he shared in this talk and in his motivational books.

He talked about realising he had to transform himself from being a manager into a leader, to inspire his team to be individually the best they could be. And importantly, to make sure each member of the team knew the impact, and took ownership, of his or her individual input into the whole team effort.

He said that the secret to success cannot be that easy to find, or everyone would find it – other than being prepared to change course. However, one more obvious secret to failure must be trying to please everyone, all of the time, which can never happen.

One inspiring statistic Adrian raised was that there are more Honours students in India than there are children in the US – reinforcing the fact that out of poverty, adversity, hitting rock bottom comes the opportunity to get to the top; whereas being moderately, safely and comfortably successful can make people complacent, leading to under-achievement and sleepwalking.

Across his career Adrian has identified several easily-spotted types of negative people, including the Sleepwalkers who end up being only 60% successful because they stop pushing themselves, Bloaters, who are wise after the event and happy to give their (unwanted) opinion, and Neck Ferrets who are dedicated to the downside – more likely to film the cockroaches in the dirty shower than the beautiful sunset outside.

But the positive and inspirational people are the ones who go further than the minimum, and make a difference to someone else’s day even in a small and simple way.

His big leave-behind could be huge in the hospitality industry: TNTs, Tiny Noticeable Things that make a huge positive impact out of an ordinary situation. This could be as simple as remembering something about someone and quoting it back to them, serving tea with a genuine smile, connecting with guests, delivering a replacement item within hours with a warm comment, handwritten notes rather than emails. One non-hospitality example given was a replacement car which came with the radio already tuned to the preferred frequencies of the previous one.

One of the most impressive takeaways from Adrian’s talk was the multi-million pound difference in revenue terms of one organisation changing the button from ‘register’ to ‘continue’, focusing the movement and goal-setting as forward motion.

He outlined ten ideal traits for making a great team; people who are enthusiastic, determined, have fun, have energy, are doers, authentic, edgy, apply corkscrew thinking, have belief, and ask questions. Which, he said, identifies the ideal team as children – who have no mental barriers. Young children are unlikely to expect it to rain. But between joining the school system at five and reaching the age of twelve, a child’s creative thinking is believed to drop from 80% to 2% as they lose their natural ability to question.

Some takeaway key points from the talk:

  • Surveys have shown that three things teams seek from their managers are time, that they take time to find out about them and that they understand, and are doing well; that they care; and that they themselves don’t pretend to be perfect.
  • One of Adrian’s bugbears is the people whose view of their own place in life begins ‘I’m just..’, as in ‘I’m just the secretary’. Everyone has a role to play.
  • Don’t give a present of expensive vintage Champagne to a tee-totaler – that shows you don’t listen to the person enough to notice key things about them.
  • If you stop using your brain, you’ll never learn anything new. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone in order to stretch your brain. But stretch yourself only just enough – too big a challenge can be as damaging as not challenging at all.
  • Sleep more! Drink water first thing in the morning and cut out late coffee. These are proved by science to have beneficial effects for the brain.
  • Hotels should always maximise the first greeting to a guest; a TV screen is not a receptionist.
  • Take time to praise staff, but don’t follow it up with an immediate request which negates the praise. Take time to stop and make the message understood.
  • It’s better not to react on the fly without considering requests – better to say ‘no, but it might become a yes’ to something if you haven’t had time to think it over.

Image: Alex Harvey-Brown

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