Friday 31 December 2010

Review of Blake: Leader - Leadership Lessons from a Great New Zealander

Essential reading about a legendary man who inspired, and continues to inspire, generations of New Zealanders. What made Sir Peter Blake so special, and such a great leader?

Review by Anne Hinton

Mark Oramsʼ seminal book on Sir Peter Blake’s leadership skills might also be subtitled “How to ‘do’ team”. The writing stemmed from Professor Orams speaking about the man affectionately known to his friends and fellow Kiwis as “Blakey”, in his capacity of initially heading the Sir Peter Blake Trust (a post he was invited to take up by Pippa, Lady Blake), and frequently being asked questions, not so much about his helming ability, but about what made Sir Peter Blake such a great leader.

Orams realized that he was in a uniquely privileged position to have known Blakey in the context of both his Round the World and America’s Cup campaigns, and also his environmental work with Blake Xpeditions. He felt a calling to share this with others and write a tribute to the leadership abilities of the man whom he so greatly admired. The funds raised from sale of the book have gone towards establishing a tribute to Sir Peter Blake at Voyager, the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland.

The book's author, Mark Orams, in his Blake Xpeditions T-shirt. Supplied image.

In addition to the book itself, there is a DVD of Sir Peter Blake speaking on leadership topics covered in the book. As Mark Orams is quick to point out, his words in the book are an interpretation of how he saw Blakey, from knowing him in many contexts across the years, but the words on the DVD, made informally by Orams and his father, are spoken directly by the leader himself.

The stories and reflections in Blake: Leader have a yachting focus, but this is used to bring out the broader principles. Blakey was very inclusive, as the stories from Linda Rae (wife of Tony Rae, known to all as Trae) and Michelle Heron, who were not sailors, but were included in the teams, illustrate. Joey Allen’s story of Blakey showing his love for Joey and his wife by his admiration for their child is another great example of this.

Sir Peter Blake humbly acknowledges the adulation of the crowds at the America's Cup parade in Wellington in 2000. Image copyright Anne Hinton, all rights reserved.

Some aspects of leadership are universal – making people feel valued, or ‘loved’. is one such - as with the example given above with Joey Allen and his child. (This was also a major influence of Herbert Fechner, who stood over the highly successful DDR Olympic sailing programme.) Other examples include Blake providing confidence to a Watch Leader to carry out his task, in laconic style, without leaving his own bunk, during rough conditions while ocean racing. Orams also provides an instance of his own inspiration from Blake's leadership by example, as he joined the crew, while off watch, for a sail change when Orams was feeling at a low ebb on board the boat.

However, there are specific Kiwi aspects to the leadership styles of Sir Peter Blake and others who are/have been noted leaders from New Zealand. While New Zealand may not have the resources, experience or expertise of many of its competitors, Kiwis use things available, uniquely, to them, and this is what leads to success. Trying to take on the competition with the same resources would often not work, as others are often able to draw from a much larger pool. Sir Peter Blake had a creative and synergistic approach that is distinctively ‘Kiwi’; getting stuck in and getting things done, while being humble and self-effacing. The idea is that everyone contributes and is valued. Orams pointed out that it is this attitude that makes Kiwis so well respected in the sport of yachting; in the case of a crisis, there is invariably a Kiwi in there first to help sort it out.

Mark Orams sailing his Laser internationally. Supplied image.

The New Zealand attitude of getting in there and getting things done is required, in particular, for offshore yachting, rugby, rowing, and adventurous pursuits, at all of which New Zealanders excel. The Sir Peter Blake regatta at Torbay SC, now one of the largest sailing regattas in New Zealand, is another instance of this synergy and pulling together in sailing terms, others being the graduates of sailing programmes in New Zealand who aspire to winning the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race. Mark Orams is also one of the selectors for the Yachting New Zealand Youth Programme, from where many also go on to Olympic campaigns.

For those who knew Blakey, the book provides great memories of a much-loved New Zealander, while illustrating his Kiwi style of leadership; for those who know him only by name, the book explains how Sir Peter Blake obtained legendary status and continues to inspire youngsters now, and into the future. As Mark Orams put it, “the ultimate tribute is that someone picks up something that they learned from a person and incorporates that into their own lives”. Blake: Leader enables New Zealanders, and others, now and in the future, to draw such inspiration from a great Kiwi leader: Sir Peter Blake.

The America's Cup on parade through the streets of Wellington, with Sir Peter Blake in earnest discussion with the RNZYS Commodore. Image copyright Anne Hinton, all rights reserved.

Blake: Leader - Leadership lessons from a great New Zealander, written by Mark Orams, and published by Random House in Auckland, is available for purchase through book stores in New Zealand, or online via:



Please note the currency in which you are making the purchase to avoid any confusion at a later date!

This is a personal review of the book, Blake: Leader, by Anne Hinton, who wishes to thank the author, Mark Orams, for his time in discussion of the background to writing the book and provision of some of the images above.

Note from SailRaceWin: It is our understanding that Sir Peter Blake's interest in developing a national team with the specific aim of bringing the America's Cup, the pinnacle of achievement in sailing, to New Zealand, extended beyond the yachting aspect. We believe that Team New Zealand was set up as a charity to promote national and international understanding and good will through the sport of sailboat racing, and bring the America's Cup, an event the size of the Winter Olympics in scale, to little old New Zealand, to the benefit of the economy of the country as a whole.