Last weekend a couple of friends and I completed the North West Tough Mudder event in Malpas Cheshire. To the uninitiated Tough Mudder is, and I quote…. “a team-oriented 10-12 mile obstacle course designed to test physical strength and mental grit. Tough Mudder puts camaraderie over finisher rankings and is not a timed race but a team challenge that allows participants to experience exhilarating, yet safe, world-class obstacles they won\’t find anywhere else.” Mmmmm says it all :-). Well it seemed a good idea at the time we signed up, but the appeal had waned as we stood on the start line, the rain gently falling, a collection of ‘smurfs’ doing press ups alongside us, and a Tough Mudder ‘motivator’ working the crowd into a frenzy with audience participation of the “Hell Yeah” kind!

\"IMG_2983\"To be fair, it was something I had wanted to do for a while, managing to persuade my erstwhile Lansdowne Lopers team mates, Julie the ‘sewer rat’ Souter and Mick ‘the mighty’ Dunne to join me was a feat in its own right. But we were there, the mud and the obstacles beckoned – so it was definitely a case of onwards and upwards, over and under….and onwards, ever onwards for 5 and a half hours! Now, whilst I don’t need to bore you with a blow by blow account of each and every obstacle, as I sat back and reflected, in the warmth of my office with a coffee in hand, there were some really pertinent insights and lessons that I thought worth sharing.

  •  A common cause will always unite, energise and motivate disparate people to engage with each other, help each other and build effective working relationships that get the job done. One of the factors that Tough Mudder prides itself on is ‘camaraderie’ and this was evident in spades. Right from the start in the warm up arena – people were talking to each other, sharing hopes and aspirations; out on the course perfect strangers helped haul each other into and out of mud pits, over logs and through tunnels. We were united in a common cause – the fight of mud, pain and tiredness. What common cause are you or your team united behind right now?
  • People ignore capability differences when focussed on a ‘challenge’ rather than a result. I think this is fascinating – the organisers go out of their way to reinforce the event as a challenge and not a race, there is no timing in anyway. Whilst there were teams of fit young (and not so young) things haring along trying to complete it quickly, there was such an array of abilities, shapes and sizes all doing there bit and their best! Because the only competition was with yourself, people were so much more open, supportive and less judgemental than you would expect in a similar but more competitive environment. The unlikeliest people surprised me on several occasions, which was a fantastic experience. Whilst perhaps not everyone can directly increase profitability, increase sales or increase productivity in your organisation, everyone has something to contribute!? Everyone is special, not just the stand outs!
  •  To succeed as a team we all need to take our turn with the heavy lifting. Several of the obstacles meant scaling\"IMG_3029\" walls or towers that needed people to lift and support each other. You took your turn at the bottom of the wall giving people a leg up before you were then assisted up and over. This was all completely voluntary, no real organisation, it just happened without a committee a meeting or a lengthy discussion about whose ‘turn it was’. We all took accountability for playing our part and I think that this is one of the ingredients missing in so many of the organisations and functions I have worked with. People must take accountability for playing their part.
  • Keep moving forward, if you stand still you will struggle. I know we hear that maxim all the time ‘if you stand still in business you will die’ but the event really made that live for me. I got very cold during the event, we were always wet and muddy and whilst the sun shone in patches, being on the go for such a long period of time took its toll on my body leaving me a shivering wreck by the end. I was forced to run just to keep warm, once you stopped your muscles cramped up and it was hard to get going again, so it became absolutely apparent that always moving forward, focussing on progress not perfection was and is key! Make sure every day that something is taking you forwards towards your goals and aspirations.
  • In order to grow you have to overcome your fears – I know that this is another much vaunted truism, but it was \"IMG_3009\"great to see it in action on Saturday. Before the event Julie was clear – “I don’t like small spaces, mud, heights or putting my head under water”! She did know what she had signed up for I promise! 🙂 Watching her tackle Shawshank was  utterly inspiring – an uphill tunnel climb ending with a 4 foot fall backwards into cold muddy water! She committed to the experience without knowing if she had the courage or capability to follow through – she did, of course, and has grown in confidence and capability as a result. Sometimes you have to commit and trust to the fact that you will be fine!
  • Motivation must really come from within if you are going to be successful. I know we talk about one of the key tasks of a leader is motivating and inspiring people to succeed, but when faced with adversity or a need for exceptional results, that motivation must come from within. It doesn’t matter how many Tough Mudder Legionnaires (yes really :-)) stood on the side lines encouraging you, ultimately it was only my desire to get over the wall because I would not be beaten that dragged me over. Other people can fan a spark inside, but if you don’t have the spark already then you will struggle to exceed your own or others expectations. What are you motivated by and how can you use that to grow and deliver?
  • \"IMG_3031\"We all need an agitator in our lives, somebody who stirs things up a bit, challenges you to do something new or different. Without my brain wave – it is unlikely that Julie or Mick would have signed up for Tough Mudder and ever done it. Whilst this was seen as a positive thing in the end, as we were trundling round, Mick did keep muttering to himself “I really need to find some new friends!” 🙂 Who have you got around you that can disrupt the status quo a bit and push you or your team to do something you had not considered or felt confident to try before?
  • Finally – it is amazing what people will pay good money for – the refrain I heard most around the course was “and we have paid £120 for this!!!!!!” lol

Tough Mudder or the like may not be your thing, but I think some of the lessons I took away have certainly made me think and I hope have resonated with you. #btbtywtb


2 responses to “8 Leadership Lessons from Tough Mudder”

  1. Loving the mud! avatar
    Loving the mud!

    What a group of dirty friends you are! Hope you’ve all showered since then!

    Maybe the learning for point 8 is you have to speculate to accumulate – be that money, time or effort. Don’t put anything in and whilst yes, sometimes life just throws experience your way, just look at how much more experience (or mud) you can immerse yourself in if you enter the event.

    You can let life just happen or you can grab it by the short and muddy curlies!

  2. Marie Pass avatar
    Marie Pass

    Love this Richard! You can’t help but smile as you recongise the linkage between this and the challenges we all face day to day. A really great way to bring this to life.

    Well done to you all, you should feel deservedly proud!


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