At Lockstep, we are proud to associate with notable leadership practitioners – people who believe in not only their work but also our offering as a business and what we can do for our clients.
Kieron McRae, a founder and former Director at Carrick Wealth, recently joined our growing team. With 30 years’ experience in leadership, strategy and culture, Kieron brings with him a deep understanding of business in diverse economic sectors across multiple geographies. He believes in the power of Leadership Development and has a desire to see organisations reaching their ambitions through their people. Kieron believes that the impact of leadership development is magnified when a collaborative approach is used in programme development, hence his desire to be part of a professional leadership team.
I recently sat down with Kieron as I wanted to learn more about one of his most inspiring leadership experiences: watching South African adventurer Chris Bertish arrive at English Harbour in Antigua in 2017 after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a stand-up paddleboard.
And this is what we chatted about…
Q: What an extraordinary experience to be involved in, how did that happen?
I was lucky enough to be the Head of Brand and Development for Carrick Wealth, the headline sponsor of the expedition, and joined the hundreds of people who were there to welcome his arrival in Antigua. Some were other sponsors, but most were people who had made their own way there, just to support him and be a part of something really inspiring. It was quite incredible.
Q: What exactly did Chris do?
He paddled his stand-up paddleboard (ImpiFish) across the Atlantic from the coast of Morocco to the island of Antigua – 7 500kms in 93 days – completely alone! His reason for doing it (other than it being a “first”) was to raise funds for Signature of Hope Trust, The Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile. It’s a massive achievement – the courage, determination, perseverance and planning was amazing. I can only imagine the many challenges Chris faced during the journey.
Q: That sounds brave and a little crazy! What do you think made him successful?
So many things contributed to this, layers upon layers of organisation, planning, support and a fastidious mental state – just to mention a few. Aside from detailed preparation and making sure he was physically fit for this, he also made back-up plans upon back-up plans. Chris’ regular Captain’s Logs spoke of all manner of problems he encountered.
Yes, he was well prepared, but life is unpredictable. Chris said that sometimes dealing with a problem immediately was useful as it gave him a break from the mundane paddling. This also ensured the problem remained small and manageable rather than compounding into something bigger.
Q: You mentioned the people involved, who were they?
People from across the world made the trip to Antigua to be there to welcome Chris home, to help with preparations, handle some behind the scenes stuff, write about it, photograph it or just to be there. Chris himself was hugely purpose-driven and focussed on completing this adventure and surrounded himself with people who shared his purpose.
Most came at their own expense and, in exchange, they could be part of something which we still find inspiration from today. They all parked their personal agendas and created a team with no formal organisation, no agreed rules or single leader. All of them had exceptional skills and are successful in their own rights.
It was a great lesson that purpose drives passion and participation. When we have a clear purpose and we know what we want to have at the end of it, then being part of it becomes a lot easier and we don’t need to put any attention on who we are, where we come from and what we might have achieved in the past.
Q: What was the most exciting thing for you to witness in Chris as he arrived?
I think watching Chris navigate the last few kilometres was a big highlight for me. It was such a mix of euphoria and tension. The approach into English Harbour is not an easy one; there are steep rock faces, a heavy sea state and a very real possibility of getting shipwrecked 2kms from the end. After 93 days of being completely alone, he approached English Harbour surrounded by friends and family on boats. Chris allowed himself a few moments to acknowledge everybody and then put his head down and focused on finishing.
Watch the sea…. paddle a bit… watch the sea…. paddle a bit…. surf down the front of the wave (sideways sometimes)…. watch the sea… paddle a bit … adjust steering … watch the sea….. paddle a bit (you get the picture)! And that is what he did, over a period of 93 days, for 15 to 20 hours every day!
It would have been easy to get towed into port, to relax and go onto autopilot. But for him, the adventure wasn’t complete until he nudged the quay and touched land for the first time.
That iconic photo taken of Chris holding a lit flare above his head as he paddled into the bay was the first time he allowed himself to let his guard down in over three months. Witnessing that focus and determination was unforgettable.
Q: Kieron, at Lockstep, we focus on leadership. How did this experience influence your views on leadership and how leaders can show up with their team or in their organisation?
I think there were two things that really stood out for me. The first was about leading with purpose AND intention. The crossing was about way more than just being the first person to cross the Atlantic solo and on a stand-up paddleboard – that makes you a “hero” not necessarily a leader.
Then second, know your “why” and make it visible through your words and actions. Then move to do the things that will make that a reality despite the challenges which will be thrown at you along the way.
Through my years of working in large businesses, I’ve realised that a true leader is one who inspires others to follow them through the obstacles, ensuring that each person feels that they have contributed in some way to any organisational (or, in this case, adventure) successes.
Thanks, Kieron, one of the things that really struck me about this story was how leadership can be shown in a number of ways – it is not only about being the ‘hero’ but also through connecting with a group of people who want to make a difference in the world.