Elon Musk is wrong.
Not about electric cars, space travel, hyperloops, online payments or anything like that, but in my opinion at least, definitely about this.
Asked for the number one tip he’d give to young entrepreneurs, his answer was as follows;
“If you need inspiring words, don’t do it”
Entrepreneurship is more glamourised than ever before. A few weeks ago I was discussing luck, and how so much of the narrative today involves sanitised, linear stories about the hero’s journey.
In the past seven days I’ve spent time listening to some really qualified people talk about leadership. Not just that, but also the importance of mentors, of being given the space to make mistakes, to develop in safe environments, embracing vulnerability and encouraging others.
Success almost never happens in a vacuum. Just because you’re pursuing a dream with passion and determination does not mean that you don’t need support. It seems entirely unlikely to me that there weren’t moments when Elon doubted himself and reached out to others, irrespective of what he’d have you believe today.
As kids we all fell off bikes, and we all needed a little bit of encouragement to get back on.
Adulthood is no different. One of the most important reasons to surround yourself with people who want the best for you is that you always have someone to reach out to for help or advice.
It hasn’t always been this way.
“I admit if you were my son, I’d be proud of you. As a travel agent or an estate agent, you’d be perfect. As a footballer, no fucking chance.”
Alan Smith, the then manager of Crystal Palace, to a 17 year old Gareth Southgate.
Gareth Southgate. A softly spoken man who exudes a sense of quiet authority, of calmness under pressure and an unwavering belief in those who he leads. He is also of course, the manager of the England men’s football team
A team which is currently surpassing all reasonable expectations. Which is no mean feat. Expectations are something which as a nation, we do really, really well.
Southgate of course, is no stranger to failure himself.
The last time England reached the semi-final of a European Championship was 1996. The then 25 year old Southgate stepped forward to take the decisive sixth penalty. Against Germany. At Wembley. The home of English football.
And then he cried.
Tens of thousands of people were inside the stadium, and millions more were watching at home.
Empathy isn’t something that we’re used to feeling for footballers. Although reading the previous paragraph back again, and with the 2021 Gareth Southgate firmly in my mind, it’s hard not to feel compassion for what that experience must have felt like.
The weight of a nation on your shoulders, and you fall short.
It’s something he’s clearly carried with him, as he quietly influences those young men entrusted to his care.
Men like Raheem Sterling, who was just three years old when his father was shot dead. Who himself has suffered the most awful racist abuse, both on the pitch and off it. From both members of the public and the national press.
“If people want to write about my mum’s bathroom in her house, all I have to tell you is that 15 years ago, we were cleaning toilets in Stonebridge and getting breakfast out of the vending machine. If anybody deserves to be happy, it’s my mum. She came to this country with nothing and put herself through school cleaning bathrooms and changing bed sheets, and now she’s the director of a nursing home.
And her son plays for England.”
Luke Shaw, the Manchester United player who nearly lost his leg after a horrific on field incident. Post recovery, his then coach tried to break his spirit, just for good measure.
“He (Shaw) had a good performance, but it was with his body and my brain. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him”
The ever humble Jose Mourinho.
Marcus Rashford. Who as a young child left home and moved in to Manchester United provided accommodation. He was 11 years old.
If you’re thinking that sounds terribly young, it is. A year earlier than normal to be exact. Partly because despite working full time, his mother couldn't afford to put food on the table.
Marcus Rashford, MBE.
Jordan Henderson, MBE, whose father battled Cancer.
Who in April 2020 co-founded the ‘Players Together’ initiative, and encouraged fellow footballers to participate in an effort which raised millions of pounds for NHS charities.
These are stories of hardship and struggle, experienced by real human beings. Stories that are all too easy to dismiss when talking about professional athletes earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.
Stories which were largely ignored as the general public felt ever more alienated from their sporting heroes. Heroes who were embarrassingly defeated at the last European Championship in 2016.
Losing to Iceland, a country playing in its first major football tournament.
England. A collection of individual superstars. Iceland, a team greater than the sum of their parts.
Yet only five years later, Southgate has given the nation a gift. An England team to be proud of, with a head coach who embodies a new style of leadership.
Not dispassionate, but calm under pressure. Not meek, but humble. Not unafraid, just unafraid of the judgement of people who don’t know, and will never understand.
Not the hero we deserved, but the one the country needed.
An example to all other leaders, in all other walks of life.
Vive la revolution.
Things I've been inspired by this week
Dear England, by Gareth Southgate. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read it.
“Of course, my players and I will be judged on winning matches. Only one team can win the Euros. We have never done it before and we are desperate to do it for the first time. Believe me. But, the reality is that the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there's much more at stake than that.
It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever”
Owen Eastwood might be the most important person you’ve probably never heard of. He’s a performance coach, currently working with the England football team. I’ve just started his new book and also listened to this podcast with him this week.
“Belonging is a wildly undervalued condition required for human performance.
When our need to belong in a team is met, our energy and focus pour into the team’s shared mission. We can lock into our role and the tasks we’re being asked to deliver. We are comfortable being vulnerable in our quest to get better. We feel secure enough to help others and point out where we could be better as a team.
We can be ourselves. We feel that we are respected and that we matter. We feel included. We can be a good teammate here. Our own identity, and that of the team happily coexist.”