Five great lessons from ‘First Man In’ – a summary of my personal learning from the Sunday Times’ best-selling book
First in a series based on my current reading. These aren’t meant as book reviews or critiques, just as a summary of my own personal learnings that others might also find useful.
I’m lucky in that my coaching clients often send or recommend me books that they’ve found interesting. Please feel free to mention anything you’ve been reading that covers, in the broadest sense: leadership, management, coaching or other personal development and growth. Use the comments box below or tweet me @NickRobCoach with any suggestions.
There’s a caveat for this first book that I imagine I might need to repeat for some other books too. I’m a big fan of learning from different worlds: people, places and experiences that are not the same as the ones I know. In doing so, you tend to come across views of the world that don’t always align with your own. Or people who still carry what seem like quite major flaws. Nonetheless, there’s often great learning there. Buddhists have a saying: “Take what works for you, and leave the rest”, which I think is the best way of learning, even from people who you might not admire or align with 100%. And, of course, we all still carry flaws, it’s what makes us human.
This book ‘First Man In’ is the Sunday Times’ best-selling autobiographical highlights from Ant Middleton, a British Special Forces veteran and presenter of Channel 4 tv series ‘Who Dares Wins’. Click here for non-affiliate link to Amazon UK
Check it out for yourself and explore your own views on this undoubtedly charismatic and driven man. The Guardian chose to write a ‘humorous’ digested take on this book, rather than review it, which you can read here. It’s not particularly complimentary – although that might highlight the fact that this book is probably not addressed to your average Guardian reader as much as it highlights the flaws therein.
The book itself is written in the form of a series of leadership lessons and it doesn’t matter if I agree with all of them. I’ve paraphrased a lot and changed emphasis and approach to suit myself. Anyway, enough blathering, here’s my own highly selective and subjective summary of my lessons from the book:
1. Always have a plan.
This is a great one and totally aligned with the coaching principle of being outcome-focussed. One of the first things I check with any of my clients who are stuck or struggling is just this: have you got a plan?
I believe that often the solution to any difficult situation is: make a plan, stick to the course without giving up, deliver the plan.
2. Failure isn’t making a mistake; it’s letting the mistake take over and redefine who you are.
Us coaches are fond of pointing out that the only way to never make a mistake is to never do anything – which is itself a mistake! Ant Middleton says that mistakes should be accepted, self-recrimination pushed to one side rather than being allowed to run the show, and a new plan formulated. I’ve seen this before in highly-trained professionals. They never recriminate about mistakes (although they almost always take time later to review and learn from them). Instead, their immediate focus is always on making good what has gone wrong. Good stuff!
3. Know when to trust your body – and when not to
AM says that your body often tells you that it’s got nothing left, when it’s still a hundred miles from breaking. And, even when it does break, it’s also designed to heal! He says most of the battle is in your mind. I’d say that it’s worth testing your body well enough to be able to tell when you’ve reached a real physical limit, and when you haven’t.
4. The importance of waiting
We often want to act, to dive in and be doing something. Often because that’s less scary than sitting with the fear of the unknown that comes from not knowing how things will work out. AM says that waiting, waiting for things to come to fruition, or waiting for the right time to act, is a vastly under-appreciated strategy, especially when part of a plan.
5. Three steps to a positive mindset
AM says that having a positive mindset is the ultimate leadership lesson. I’m a bit wary about terms like ‘positive mindset’, not least because organisations staffed entirely by hopeless optimists don’t tend to turn out too well! But that isn’t what AM means. I think he’s talking about the state of being able to always make a difference or of always being able to move forwards. And that’s something I can get behind entirely. Here’s what is very much my own paraphrasing of his three steps:
- Be totally honest with yourself about who you are and what your current situation is;
- Accept that, in some way, you are responsible for who you are and where you find yourself;
- Be actively engaged in the process of addressing those aspects of yourself and your situation that you want to change.
I hope you get the chance to check out this interesting book for yourself. I got mine as Christmas present and found it a quick, easy and enjoyable read. My teenage son and I love watching the TV series ‘Who Dares Wins, also led by this author, which does a brilliant job of creating an environment in which people can really test and learn about their physical and mental resilience.