Beyond leadership – BLM interviews world explorer Levison Wood
What does it take to lead a team in some of the world’s most dangerous regions? BLM talks to explorer and former army officer, Levison Wood.
Levison Wood is a writer, explorer, and photographer, whose televised walking expeditions have taken him around the world.
Levison’s Channel 4 documentaries have taken him along the length of the Nile, from the Himalayas to Afghanistan and Bhutan, on an expedition from Mexico to Colombia and, most recently, across the Caucasus from Russia to Iran.
His extensive travel experiences in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous areas have taken Levison to over 90 countries.
In 2006, he was commissioned as an officer into the Parachute Regiment of the British Army and in 2008 served in Afghanistan. He is currently a Major in the British Army Reserve, serving in 77th Brigade.
Wood speaks with Business Leader Magazine about the importance of leadership and how to build a team around you.
What do you believe makes a good leader in business?
Being a good business leader is about having the integrity to lead by example, show courage, make bold decisions and not be afraid to take risks. In terms of my own experiences, coming from a military and business background, I think that it is key to ensure that your employees respect you and have faith in your decisions.
The only way to achieve that is to stick to your guns. By doing that, you instil confidence in your team.
What tips would you give to someone running a large team?
It is key to make everyone involved feel included. I have always had a mantra when in a large team, which is to always ask for everyone’s opinion. I do this even if I know the answer or know what I am going to do. I always ask for an opinion and get everyone talking and involved. You might get an answer that you have not necessarily thought of.
What have your expeditions taught you about leadership?
It is really a continuation of a lot of the lessons that I learned in the army as a leader of a team there. As an officer, I oversaw up to 90 soldiers at a time under very challenging conditions. Being on an expedition is like that in many regards, just with much smaller teams. Both experiences involve going out into potentially dangerous and remote places.
In these places, you are not necessarily going to get assistance from the outside world. You have got to make sure all your team are fully aware of the risks and ensure that everyone is trained to the highest level and knows how to get out of a tough situation.
Have your army skills been transferable into your business ventures?
Definitely. As an officer, your job is ultimately to inspire confidence and lead your soldiers. That might be on an exercise or on an operation in a war zone. You need to be prepared for a lot of different situations.
What the army does is give you the confidence to take the principles of leadership and to apply them in any situation. It comes down to maintaining a cool, calm, and collected state of mind and not cracking under pressure.
Can leadership be taught or is it something you are born with?
It can be taught. Some people are born with some of the traits of leadership. The best leaders are the ones that have learnt their lessons through training and experience and have then applied those lessons in real life situations.
How do you see leadership changing in the business world and are there any leaders you admire?
There is no set formula for leadership. Different leaders have different traits. If you look at the world of business, you find a wide range of characters. For example, Richard Branson is an incredibly fun and charismatic leader who has managed to inspire teams just by the sheer force of his personality. There is a lot to be said about that.
For me, leadership is about building the very best team. One of the best quotes I have heard from a business is, “you can only achieve great things if you surround yourself with great people”.
The best leaders are ones that are not too arrogant to accept the advice of the people that work for them and are confident enough to surround themselves with intelligent and hardworking people.
The best companies within their industries are the ones that get the best teams. Look at Steve Jobs – he surrounded himself with incredibly talented people and enjoyed huge success.
What is the best way to build a team that believes in what you’re doing?
It is important to find out what your requirements are and to know what jobs need to be done. Then you need to go out and find the best person for that job. He or she might work for a rival company and you may need to go headhunting.
They could be someone who you haven’t thought about and currently works in a different role, but has the skills for this new job. It is all about actively going out and getting that person.
If I need a good cameraman, security risk manager, photographer, or the best local linguist for my expeditions, then I will go out and find them. Don’t settle for second best. If someone says that they are unavailable, then make them available.
Levison Wood’s new book Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking The Silk Road is now on sale. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, £20.