Drive The Power Train
By The Army Leader
One of the seven Leadership Code behaviours is ‘Encourage Confidence in the Team’. The guide to the Code says that leaders should inspire and motivate their team by showing confidence in their abilities and talking enthusiastically about success. Inspirational motivation. Fine words. But what does that actually mean?
‘Encourage Confidence in the Team’ is all about inspirational motivation, and a great way to understand inspirational motivation is by thinking about the Power Train. I was introduced to the Power Train by an international rugby coach. The Power Train is about understanding what drives us, what holds us back and what the leader’s role is in both of those.
The Power Train
The Power train has five parts to it. The front is the engine. The power that drives the train. It’s your vision or your dream. You need the vision because that’s what drives you forward and gives you your motivation. Without the vision – without the engine – the Power Train isn’t going anywhere.
The first carriage is your thoughts. It’s what you tell yourself about achieving the vision. It’s inside your head and, while it feels like you control those thoughts, sometimes they control you unless you put effort in.
The second carriage is your words. Your words are pulled forward by your thoughts and your attitude. What you think affects what you say. Your thoughts might be internal but your words are the first place they intact with the outside world.
Clacking along behind in the fourth carriage are you actions and behaviours. People see these, but they are all based on the pull of your thoughts and your words.
Finally, at the back of the Power Train, as at the back of a real train, is the baggage wagon. The baggage holds you back. It weighs the train down on the way to its destination and it weighs you down in achieving your vision. But the baggage is only on the train because of the passengers in the three carriages. And this is the lesson. Your baggage is holding you back from achieving your vision but if you concentrate on getting rid of the baggage, on throwing it off the Power Train, you’ve missed the point. You need to deal with the contents of the other carriages; your thoughts, words and actions.
Let me give you an example.
My Power Train
I have a personal vision of the future. I dream about being retired in my 70s, sitting at Christmas surrounded by my children and grandchildren. I’m spinning dits about my time in the Army: How the fights were harder, the kit was heavier and the enemy tougher. Basically I’m boring the sh*t out of them about what a legend I was and how much better I was when I was as young as they are. That’s the engine of my Power Train. My wife’s a big part of the dream. I can’t do it without her. I met her when we were 20 and we’ve been together since.
But in the next carriage are my thoughts. I’m sitting in Costa in the NAAFI reading some trashy mag and seeing pictures of some guy my age with a wife in her 20s. I’m looking at these photoshopped women and thinking about my wife. I mean, she’s had three children. She’s changed. She’s not 20 anymore. Those guys are doing better than me with their young wives.
And so my thoughts frame my attitude and words. The first carriage on the Power Train pulls the next one: My words
And so my thoughts frame my attitude and words. The first carriage on the Power Train pulls the next one: My words. When someone asks about my wife I’m like “Yeah, she’s not all she used to be. Nags a lot. She’s at home chilling out every day with the kids and I’m off at work beasting myself”. The words come from my attitude and thoughts, pulled along, and in turn the words pull along my actions.
Because carriage three is what I do when I go home. Dinner’s not ready, the house is a tip. I’m tired and I want to sit down with a beer. And so I tell my wife as much. And ignore her and sit in front of the TV and demand dinner. My thoughts and words create my behaviour and guess what – it all creates the baggage at the back.
There’s no way I’m going to achieve my dream with that baggage. My marriage is full of baggage but there’s no point me trying to deal with the baggage because the baggage isn’t the issue. It’s the symptom, not the disease.
The right way to ride the Power Train is to direct those thoughts. Own them. My wife gave up a career in medicine to follow me around the world and live in some right old holes. She gave up rich patients pushing wodges of cash into her hands to make them well. She’s a star. And she looks great. These (of course) are my actual thoughts.
So when someone asks how my wife is I say “Great. She’s sacrificed loads to keep me in a career I love. I can’t wait to get home and see her. Legend.” It’s true, but importantly it’s based on the thoughts in the first carriage.
And that drives my actions. When I get home I give her the 15 minutes of quality conversation she needs. We talk about her day, I ignore the mess in the house and she gets the attention she deserves. And guess what? After 15 minutes she says “Hey you’ve had a hard day. You should sit down and have a beer.” Like I said: legend.
And all this leads to less baggage in the wagon at the back and less weight slowing down the Power Train on its way to me being a boring ex-soldier on Christmas day in a few decades.
Driving Your Follower’s Train
Leaders need to prevent the baggage from slowing down the Power Train of everyone in their team.
But the lesson in all this isn’t about you and your Power Train. It’s about you as a leader. Leaders have to provide a vision about where the team is going. But in order to get the team there they need to prevent the baggage from slowing down the Power Train of everyone in their team. If you do that by trying to shift the baggage off the back of every train you’ll never manage it. You have to get into the passenger carriages. Be inspirational.
There are three types of person in the world. The first type leaps out of bed in December when it’s raining outside and shouts “It’s a great day. I can’t wait to cycle into work and do my amazing job!”
Type 1: Mr Super-Positive. There aren’t many people like that.
The next type looks out of the window on a cool June morning, the sun is up and the sky is clear, and thinks “Jeez, it’ll be hot today. I’ll get sweaty and uncomfortable. I’ll have to sit trapped at my desk and not be able to appreciate today. This is tonk.”
Type 2: Mr Cynical Pessimist. Thankfully there are also few of these people. But I bet you know them. I hope your boss isn’t one of them.
Most of us, we get up and we get on with the day. Us Type 3s roll with the punches and enjoy the good parts. This is normal. But for most of us normal people the way we feel through the day depends on whether or not we meet one of the positive inspirational people or one of the negative depressing people first in the morning.
you don’t have to be a blind optimist. But you do need to provide inspirational motivation to your team because every part of your Power Train interacts with your followers’ Power Trains.
As a leader, you don’t have to be a blind optimist. But you do need to provide inspirational motivation to your team because every part of your Power Train interacts with your followers. Your language and your behaviour changes their first carriage: the way they think and their attitude.
If your team meet you, Mr Cynical Pessimist, first each morning then you’re priming their Power Train for more baggage. If you greet them as Mr Normal then you are missing an important, perhaps critical, opportunity. You have to be ready to shape their attitude each morning. To help them shed their baggage.
That doesn’t mean blind optimism. It doesn’t mean lying to them or hiding the problems. It just means shaping their attitudes through your positive language and actions. The Army Leadership Code calls it ‘encouraging confidence in the team’. I’d call it ‘delivering inspirational motivation’.
Whatever you call it, your job isn’t just to provide a vision. It’s to support your team by reducing their baggage. If you can help shape their thoughts then via their words and actions then you’ll ultimately help reduce their baggage and help them achieve the team’s goal.
A former Senior NCO and Military Cross recipient talks about how he motivates his soldiers in The Three Ks of Leadership. Check it out for more on motivation.