The All Blacks have famously mastered resilience through a model of Red versus Blue behaviours. In Red we are overloaded, confused and at risk. Think quarter finals against France in 2007. The All Blacks realised that they had to master the Blue state: calm, clear and skilful. The shift was drilled in practice, in matches and in after match reviews. It works – mostly. In many sports, it is a duel to see who can stay in deepest Blue.
Leadership Expertise Framework
RED: overloaded, confused at risk and reactive. We default to destructive behaviour. In RED, we are operating from our reptilian brain with too much drive from the amygdala. Behaviour is reactive, rigid and fails to grasp the opportunity.
YELLOW: under pressure but focused and working hard to establish new behaviours. The amygdala is still active but we are actively focused on the effortful execution of a new behaviour. This is very expensive for the brain, awkward at first, and exhausting.
GREEN: under pressure but calm, relaxed and skilful in displaying expert patterns. The amygdala is quiet. The skill is so well practiced that you are now expert. The brain is quiet and the flow of activity is effortless. In fact, you are in flow – fast, fluid and expert.
The Science of Expertise
A huge opportunity exists for us to explore and pioneer the science of leadership expertise – What Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice. We have barely begun to exploit what chess masters, musicians, athletes and mathematicians achieve with deliberate practice:
- Practice with specific objectives, quick feedback and intense focus
- Practice out of your comfort zone and work your motivations
- Know that practice will trump talent every time
- Work with a skilled coach
Take for example, a customer failure debriefing with the person responsible. Insight and mastery is a journey through three stages.
RED: angry, frustrated, and shouting we bawl the victim out in front of the team
YELLOW: angry but focused we debrief in private and follow process with tense discipline
GREEN: calm, focused and caring for the person, we examine the cause together and seek resolution
As leaders, we make or break leadership impact depending on how well we master the testing situations. When RED, we cause chaos. YELLOW is very difficult. GREEN delivers effectiveness – we have embedded expert skill into the process of leadership.
This is a journey of learning that demands incisive reflection, careful planning, deliberate practice, coaching, and patient mastery of the situation in focus. Deep learning occurs in the science and practice of resilience.
Define the situation
Rather than striving to be the best leader ever with all the skills, focus on the situation that can deliver the greatest gain. This may be a difficult colleague, board meetings, customer negotiation or media briefings.
Accurately describe your current level of performance
Let’s say you know the board doubts your ability on an issue. You are anxious and flustered in board meetings. At times you are RED, leading to stuttering, frustration and poor articulation of your plan. Sometimes you are YELLOW and it is really challenging to stay calm, focused and tuned into the board.
Visualise clearly the specific behaviour and outcome you seek
In the board situation, craft a clear vision for being calm, focused and tuned into the board. Feel what it is like to win their respect, attention and confidence. Hear your words clearly articulated around your plan with humour, flexibility and concern for their needs. GREEN.
Define and focus on the competencies you need to master
In this case, we are dealing with high level competence and complexity. A combination of tactical calm, empathy, presence and influence. Start with the highest impact change. Let’s say that is demonstrating deep calm and personal presence. This is your first practice point. Say that it is fluctuating between YELLOW and RED. The specific goal to practice is staying calm and holding your presence in an intimidating, high consequence situation.
Seek out strengths you can build on
Lean on a situation where calm and presence come naturally. You are at GREEN. Explore how you can take that skill and memory into the board situation.
Get a coach to rehearse, practice and drill the new behaviours
Find a coach or team willing to work with you in rehearsing tactical calm and presence under pressure. Use role play and specific questions to be tested by the “board” while you work on holding calm presence during your response. Be prepared to drill the practice many times. Athletes do this all the time. Leaders far too infrequently. With practice, you will experience more GREEN and less RED.
Get feedback, define improvements and practice again
Engage the situation and find a “friendly” on the board to give you feedback. Take your learning back to the coach. Refine the focus, drill the detail and try again.
Step by step, master leadership expertise by moving from RED, to YELLOW and to GREEN – one situation at a time. Remember the long-term strategy. Pick your battles, conserve energy and don’t be afraid to confront the hard stuff.