Five lessons in Leading with Inspiration from my first season of being captain of the bowls team of Finchley Victoria Bowling and Croquet Club
In October 2016, I reluctantly stood for the captaincy of our local bowls team, where I had been a playing member for two years. Reluctant because I am still working full time in my own business, and didn’t know if I had the time, energy or skills. I was encouraged to stand because no-one else wanted the position and without a captain, we were in trouble!
We knew 2017 was going to be a big season for the club, as membership had been in decline and there were two significant changes. Barnet Council have asked all the clubs in the Borough to become self-financing, rather than subsidized by the Council. As part of this evolution, we had decided to utilise our second lawn for croquet rather than. We needed to go from paying the council around £3,000 a year to potentially paying them around £17,000 this year. It has been a “do or die,” pivotal season. And it was our first season as a bowls and croque club rather than a bowls only club.
Now, at the end of my first season, I have reflected on what I have learned about myself in my first year as captain. Here are five lessons I have learned.
- There will no always be an “All hope is lost” moment of vulnerability that can be the threshold to a new chapter
Although I became captain in October 2016, but I didn’t really need to do much until the season started at the end of April 2017. It didn’t take long, though, for me to begin to feel quite scared at the responsibility, vulnerable and quickly began to see how far out of my depth I was. There was a lot I didn’t know. I soon hit that moment where I regretted taking on the captaincy, was cross and tough with myself for having agreed to do it, and felt guilty about not doing a very good job. I felt awful and I wanted to quit. In the hero’s journey mythology, there is a point in every call to adventure when the hero has an “All hope is lost” moment – when failure seems inevitable and the situation can’t be turned around. I had mine. I just wanted to give up and revert to being a player rather than a captain.
In the middle of one of the first games of the season against Temple Fortune, that voice was loud in my mind. I kept saying to myself, “I can’t do this! Its beyond me!” I wanted to give up. Then suddenly I heard another voice in my mind say, “You can do this. You have the capability. You have the resources!” who’s voice it was, I don’t know, but I suddenly relaxed a little. Not only did we win that game, but it was like a new “inner champion” voice in me was emerging. I kept telling myself, “I can do this! I am capable. I can develop the confidence.” It was quite magical.
- I can grow with my own flavor of leadership
One thing that was stressing me out at the beginning was that I saw my job in large part was to meet other people’s expectations and prolong the past traditions of the club and the game of bowls. But I felt a conflict, because most of our members were no longer or never really had been interested in playing competitive matches and being very formal. Most enjoyed playing each other, playing friendly matches against other clubs and enjoyed the social dimension and simply belonging to the club and community. The previous captain had been good at “pushing” people to play games that they didn’t necessarily want to play. My approach was that to have a successful club, our activities needed to be sustainable and that people overall needed to willingly participate and do they wanted to do, rather than I what I wanted and needed them to do.
It was clear that we were changing the culture and purpose of the club. We wanted to be more relaxed, friendly and informal. My style is to lead with inspiration and by being wholehearted. I wanted to make it fun for them and for me, make it enjoyable, and where possible make it inspiring. I have started to do that. My style of leadership is about enabling – helping people, enjoy the game, learn, grow, feel engaged and to love being part of the club in any way they want, not to be great bowlers.
- I tend to lead by asking for forgiveness in retrospect rather than by asking for permission
In a separate role for the club, I also took it upon myself to create an online presence for the first time in the clubs 70-year history. I created a Facebook page, then got a website developed and built. I created a YouTube channel and Twitter account. A friend who is a videographer offered to create a video to promote the club, and we put that together and it looks great. But I just gently went ahead and did these things and generally people were very happy with the results. But if I had asked the committee what they wanted and for a brief, many of these things might still be waiting to happen.
- Some people don’t like change and can even seem to actively undermine it
One or two members have found the changes difficult and unpalatable. They have wanted to keep old traditions and etiquette like strict dress codes alive. We have had difficulties. We have accommodated where we can, as we want them to stay engaged. My natural inclination is to want to please and not do things which I know are upsetting to others. And there comes a time when we can bend ourselves too far out of shape and become over accommodating, and we have needed to draw a line. We have needed to go with the majority feeling.
- Change only emerges most frequently from engagement and collaboration
We are succeeding because we all want to see our club succeed – not just bowls succeeding or croquet succeeding, or a social programme succeeding. We want the whole club and each other to succeed. We are a big family, with all the ups and downs that go with family. We are all offering our own flavours of leadership and collaborating to birth this new chapter of our club. We all care and we all care in our unique ways.
One of my highlight moments
Undoubtedly one of my highlight moments was captaining our five teams of three players to victory against the Chelsea Pensioners when they came to visit us on July 12th. I was part of our considerable preparations, I gave them a welcome speech, I played well, I gave another speech at the end to thank them, and we waved them off in their bus. I found it fascinating and inspiring to speak with them and learn more about the Royal Hospital and how they live.
During their visit, I also had my photo taken with John Griffiths, one of their players, who had the previously day had his photo taken with Johanna Konta on Centre Court at the Wimbledon Championships. That was fun. From Centre Court to Finchley Victoria park in 24 hours. Oh, the glamour!
Our club closes the 2017 season strong
We finish the year strong in terms of membership, strong financially through membership and grants and some people have bequeathed us money in their wills. I am actually looking forward to being captain again in 2018. Next year I will be less reluctant and more wholehearted.