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Paul Robinson explains how entering a dragon boat race in Hong Kong gave him valuable lessons for leading teams.

“I set up in Hong Kong, where I lived for 10 years, a dragon boat team called The Sea Gods.

We were a fun team – we did a lot of drinking! it was a group of friends and we paddled, and over about just three or four years we got a little bit better.

I think it was in the third year that we suddenly found ourselves winning one of the lower-ranked competitions. That was a really great experience, and what we realised was we wanted to push on each year.

People weren’t happy if they weren’t learning and you would lose people, they’d drift away to other things. So we started building on that.

Five years in and we’d always had a mixed team of men and women, but there was only a men’s or a ladies’ competition to enter.  Then they introduced a mixed category, and I laid down the challenge of saying: “I want to win this!” Most agreed it just wasn’t possible. There was such a gap between ourselves and the other teams. They trained so hard compared to what we did, but I said, “I think this is possible and I think people are up for it.”

One of my very good friends said, “You’re not going to get people to turn up three times a week and put in these hours.” And I said, “Well, they do for their rugby training, let’s try it.” And what I learned was, when you set a really aggressive goal, you put a framework in place for those people to make it achievable.

A week before the competition we were in a run-up race. There were seven teams, of which six were going to be at the big event, and we came sixth out of seven in that race. But the difference that separated the first and the sixth boat was half a second between all of us, literally. So we really practised and focused on our technique and we won by a decent margin on the day.

By pushing them harder, they were actually more inspired and they worked harder. And that’s something I’ve learned for any team. People want to be pushed. They work better when they’ve got an aggressive goal and they can really see themselves getting somewhere.

If you make it easy for people they tend to sit back, and they’re less happy and they’ll probably drift away.

This is an abridged transcript of the video lesson – watch the video for the full story!