This leadership tool smells but doesn't stink. Try it.

© Iwan Jenkins 2018

© Iwan Jenkins 2018

The best things in life are free---and earned

The best leadership advice I ever received was practical and yielded results immediately upon application.

From where did I get it?

Well, it didn’t come from a fancy business school, and I’ve been to some of the best; Insead, Babson College and the Judge Institute in Cambridge . 

And it didn’t come from a leadership guru—and I’ve sat at the feet of some of the most expensive.

No, this advice was pummelled, punched and bathed in sweat before it was thrown to me.

And it’s the only leadership approach that I’ve used consistently in the development others across continents, across cultures, across generations.

What is it? I’ll let you know, without the smell

I was working at a kids camp in upstate New York in the late 1970’s. One of my co-workers, Simon, a fellow Brit and keen boxer, had arranged to train at local boxing gym and invited me to go with him.

Now, I wasn’t interested in boxing then, nor am I now. Watching all those blows to the head remind me too much of past, painful annual personal reviews.  

But I am interested in sport generally, so I decided to keep him company.

We arrived to a bricked, squat and windowless building on hot and humid August morning. 

Passing from bright sunlight into fluorescent bulb gloom you’re hit with grunts, dull thumps of leather hitting bodies, the whistling of jump ropes, and the screams of mechanical fans, pushing air at maximum revs.

And well, the smell.

I don’t know what the collective noun for boxers is but a pungent of pugilists would be a contender.

I hung onto the ropes of the central training ring while Simon prepared for the day..

Next to me a conversation taking place. I snooped.

A journalist is quizzing the Coach and gym owner, Cus D’Amoto about his training methods.

D’Amato is a boxing coach straight out of central casting.  

He talks Bronx. He’s short. He’s tubby. He’s bald. As PG Wodehouse once said, “he looked like he’d be poured into his clothes and forgot to say stop.”

Though no successful boxer himself, Cus has trained world trained champions. A few years after this interview, he’d be coaching Mike Tyson.

The journalist asked D’Amto

“Cus, what’s your secret behind creating so many good boxers?”

D’Amato said, 

“Secret? None. I don’t create. My job is to discover and uncover. Find the spark, and fan it. 

When it starts to become a little flame I feed it. 

Then I feed the fire until it becomes a roaring blaze. And when it becomes a roaring blaze, I put on huge logs.”

He’d say the same thing again many times.

SuRprise Hint: Just paying attention to others makes you stand out from the crowd

I applied this approach in my first senior management role and it worked, and worked quickly.

I rooted around to find the spark in others. Then having found it, fanned it. Then once it took hold, I throw on log of opportunity, stood back, and enjoyed them glowing in their success.

In fact, this episode was prompted by some kind words of my former colleagues who’d benefited from the application of this, erm, method.

Your job is to discover and uncover their spark. Then fan it. When it starts to become a little flame you feed it. Then you feed the fire until it becomes a roaring blaze. And then when it becomes a roaring blaze, put huge logs on.

So there you go.

Find their spark.

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