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In Practice

The Warrior Mindset Is Not About Being Macho

Confident young Asian woman with arms crossed, standing in modern train station

Leadership in the current environment is very challenging. Remote working, mental health, gender fluidity, and Gen Z workers all demand new skills of senior executives. 

Floyd Woodrow was a senior officer in the U.K.’s special forces, the SAS, and is now an adviser to numerous companies. BRINK spoke to him about his book, called The Warrior, the Strategist and You.

WOODROW: I think an effective leader in the 21st century cannot be isolated in one form of leadership. The best leaders are able to adapt to changing circumstances and take people with them. 

A sense of purpose is fundamental to performance. Where do you actually want to get to? What does success look like? How do you connect with people to make that happen? And how do you leave a legacy that enables that to continue? I think that’s the highest level of leadership especially when you can almost lead without authority because it is the right thing to do and we are all pointing in the same direction. 

But you also have to have the ability to look at the situation. In reality, we all want to have a great ambition and purpose, but you have to break that down into a strategic analysis, critical thinking, cognitive diversity and the facts. It’s really important to realize that you cannot do this by yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever come across any individual that has all the tools and capabilities. You need people around you to enhance the plan and use wisdom, common sense and judgment to apply that information correctly. 

Values also play another enormous part in building the right culture, the right environment. I look at something called embodied cognition — creating the environment that you want to operate in, and that’s always about values and a team code of conduct. 

If you want to really push the bounds of performance and take people with you, you need to move from an I attitude to a we attitude.

There Are Many Types of Warriors

BRINK: You call the book, The Warrior, which obviously has military overtones. Is there a risk that creates an overly male sense of leadership?

WOODROW: It’s interesting, when I talk about the warrior idea, it’s only men who ever come back and question it. I’ve never had a woman question it, because I think women inherently realize they have to fight for things. There’s a brilliant phrase by Malala who says, “We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.”

Warriors come in so many different shapes and sizes. When you look at influential people, they’ve had to stand up and fight. So, I think the word is right. People need to realize that in a world that is inherently difficult, you will always have to fight for your rights and freedoms. Having that mentality is not about being a bully or being big and strong, it’s about the fact that you’re going to have to step up, whatever that looks like, and you can always be a peaceful warrior.

The Compass and the Map

Compasses and maps and journeys are really important. This is a lifelong journey of learning, adventures, experiences, so that you do have a fulfilled life, at the highest levels giving back to society. That’s when the compass and the map come in. 

The map changes, so you realize you’re in a different environment, which you need to be aware of, otherwise it’s a difficult place. And then the compass allows you to have a bit of balance in order to take the right steps going forward. The whole book is designed around that principle and giving you some simple tools to stay in equilibrium.

BRINK: Do you think that Gen Z has a different approach to these things than other generations?

WOODROW: No, I think people sometimes misrepresent this new generation. They still have to turn up for work, they still have to be flexible, independent, and I think that actually brings some great tools. There’s also a reality check that comes with stepping into business and stepping into the world. 

If you want to really push the bounds of performance and take people with you, you need to move from an I attitude to a we attitude. And I think everybody needs to learn that skill. 

Yesterday, I was with 300 12-year-olds. I do a little thing where I’ll bring a chair out, put it into the middle of the room and say, in a minute, I’m going to put somebody in the chair. You’ll be blown away by how many children put their hand up to sit in that chair, and how many adults don’t. Half of the kids that I’ve ever been with, I put them under pressure, and they want to step into the pressure zone. They’ll say, “I’m a bit scared, but I’m willing to give it a go. I have got friends around me.” I think what happens is that we tend to lose that as we get older.

Practicing Decision-Making

Anybody can make a decision when it’s a yes or no answer or you have to make it, but at what stage should you have made that decision? And more importantly, what processes do you go through to make sure that when you have to make the decision, physically and mentally, you’ve got yourself into the right state to make a good decision? To do that, you’ve got to understand how to be consistently good. And that is a skillset which we don’t practice often enough. 

BRINK: Do you think that different skills are required for managing and leading remotely than leading in person?

WOODROW: I don’t think they’re different but you need to be more astute in certain areas. Probably the biggest one is your ability to listen to what people are saying. When I see you face to face, I can pick up nuances that I would not do online. So, therefore, I’ve got to be even sharper about the words that you are using, the tone. You have to be a little more astute about what is actually going on with the relationships, clarity of direction, your message is understood, and accountability, making sure people are clear on what they need to do.

BRINK: AI has the ability to give executives much more information in their decision-making. Do you think it will change the nature of leadership?

WOODROW: Fundamentally, I don’t think it’s going to change a lot if you want to be a good leader. You’re still dealing with people, and people are emotional. AI will give you bits of information that might enhance your decision-making process. And I’m not saying you can’t get lots of good information from it, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to come back to the individual that’s going to make the decision, their intellect, their knowledge, their experiences, and how they apply that to a given situation. 

You just have to look at [President Vladimir] Putin going into Ukraine. You can have as much AI as you want, but you look at those kinds of situations and you think, fundamentally, that is a decision made by a human being based on emotion.

Floyd Woodrow

Chairman of Quantum Group and Founder of Compass for Life

Floyd Woodrow is a former Special Forces soldier, who had a successful career with the UK’s Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). He runs Compass for Life, a global leadership and development consultancy within private and public sectors, as well as education and sports.  

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