Why apricots are the secret to outstanding leadership

To get the best out of your teams, you as a leader have to get one habit very right. It’s the secret to outstanding leadership, whether you lead a team of two, or a team of two thousand. Here are two true stories, both of which are beauties and illustrate the ‘habit’ perfectly.

The first is about a chief executive of the Australian operations of a global software giant with whom I worked in the mid 1990s. His background was in sales, where his prowess had seen him rise to the top of a demanding, high performance organisation.

Every year he’d go home to New Zealand on holiday. There he’d take a day out to practice the secret habit of outstanding leadership. He’d buy several crates of apricots, and pack them in the back of his car. He’d then drive to a random suburb, park at the end of a street, walk along it, and knock on each door to try to sell trays of apricots. “I challenge myself to keep working on my sales pitch so that I have sold the boot load of apricots before it gets dark,” he told me. “I do this annually to get back in touch with basic selling skills, to prove to myself I can still sell, and then to use that confidence to bring new energy and sharpness to the example I set for our sales teams.” I love this story.

The second story is about Phil Waugh, a former Australian rugby team and current New South Wales Waratahs captain, and one of the most relentless, physical and enthusiastic player I’ve seen. “How do you week in and week out, game after game, season after season, manage to keep inspiring, motivating and leading your team,” I asked him.

“The secret is simply this,” he replied. You have to be on your own game first, lead by example.”

“If you want your forwards to get to the ball first, you get there first. If you want them to tackle harder, be the hardest tackler on the field. Be on your game, lead by example.”

To keep on our game, we have to work at it. Stephen  Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to ‘Sharpen The Saw’, to continually work at improving and fine tuning our skills.

To be an outstanding leader, get into the habit of being on your game. Lead by example. We can’t expect others to behave in ways we want them to unless we’re doing it ourselves. Keep showing your teams that you never rest on your laurels; that you work relentlessly to ‘sharpen the saw’, to fine tune skills and evolve better ways of delivering peak performance.

Oh, and eat fruit, it’s meant to be good for you!

> View a video of Chris retelling this post

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25 Responses to Why apricots are the secret to outstanding leadership

  1. Michel Bunting June 8, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Great post Chris. Love your passion for the story. The first and last piece of leadership as well hey…Model the Way… This is a fantastic idea…your blog…leadership from within the organisation.

    Michael Bunting

    • Chris Savage June 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

      Thanks Michael- appreciate the support

  2. Grant Butler June 8, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Thanks Chris – really inspiring but also a challenge to achieve! Readers might also like to dig up the biography of Sir John Monash (the Australian general who helped win WWI). His ability to lead by example is a great model, though I note he tried to stay a little back from the actual bullets in the interests of staying alive (and useful).

    • Chris Savage June 8, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Thanks Grant- will certainly read that book. I guess I’ve hung back on occasion and dodged a few bullets too….!! All the best. Chris

  3. Paul Heath June 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Great stuff Chris – leading from the front !
    best paul

  4. Tereasa Trevor June 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Great post Chris. I found your presentation inspiring – which is no surprise to me as I’ve kept a frog on my computer ever since I saw your ‘eat that frog’ presentation years ago! Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • John Smyth June 9, 2011 at 3:29 am #

      @Tereasa, I’m with you. @Chris, I saw you present ‘Eat that frog’, too. I always recommend the book to people who want to achieve more. I hope to see a post dedicated to ‘Eat that frog’. Cheers!

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      thanks Tereasa- appreciate the comment.

  5. Alex Campbell June 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Great post Chris.

    I particularly love the apricots story! What a brilliant way to lead by example and keep those skills sharp.

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      Thanks Alex- it’s a great story indeed.

  6. John Smyth June 9, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    Thanks, Chris. Your examples of outstanding leadership make me think of Andrew Gaze. He wasn’t the most athletic player on the court, but he worked hard on the fundamentals. He led with fundamentals.

    • Chris Savage June 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Thanks John- you’re right. he was just that. A great example of leadership.

  7. Claire June 9, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    Nice post Chris! It brought back memories of those Microsoft days and yet I don’t remember hearing about the apricots… but an inspiring story to hear all these years later!

    Also hats off to you for your blog – it is the most engaging and appropriate use of technologies that I’ve come across. I also appreciated that I could very easily view it from my mobile… there are many large organisations who should take note of your online delivery! You’ve got me inspired to play around with some more tools on mine.
    Cheers, Claire

    • Chris Savage June 9, 2011 at 10:58 am #

      Thanks Claire. I really appreciate the feedback and support. I have been delighted with the response to date. I am learning about the technologies and luckily have had very good expert advice. Thanks again for the feedback. Chris

  8. Tony Spencer-Smith June 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Rugby balls and apricots – two unlikely sources of leadership inspiration. Chris, it’s great the way you explain and motivate through anecdotes.

    Other people talk about the power of storytelling, pay lip service to the seductive power of narrative; you build your entire persuasive persona around the gift of the gab!

    • Chris Savage June 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

      Thanks Tony- and coming from you- a master storyteller- well, that’s great! Thanks again.

  9. Donald Alexander June 10, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Chris, the Microsoft example should be followed by every CEO; get out and listen to the market, and listen again. I recall your first ever talk to CSU PR students and advising them that listening skills should be their top priority, and I keep repeating that every year.

    • Chris Savage June 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

      About time you invited me back Don!! I always loved the drive to Bathurst and some of our very best employees came out of that campus. In fact STW ceo Mike Connaghan is a graduate, though we suspect it took him a few extra years as he was having a lot of fun. Thanks for the comments- appreciated.

  10. Jenny June 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Good to remind myself.

  11. Angela June 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Love your blog Chris, you are always an inspiration.

    My apricots sales story is shopping in Shenzhen. It’s where I tackled the art of bartering, the fine balance of win-win and the observation of what was ‘in’; as only the latest cool ‘faux’ products were sold there!

  12. Anna Colbeck June 18, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    Loving the blog Chris. Brings back fond memories of working for you.

    I still have a copy of your Eat That Frog on my desk, although I probably still need to eat the frog a little earlier than I do sometimes.

    I thank people who work for me every evening for the work they’ve done that day – something you used to do to me – hope you’re still doing it, because it stuck with me.

    Hope you and your family are well.

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2011 at 11:52 am #

      Thanks Anna! Great to hear from you and glad you’re enjoying the blog. Keep well! Chris

  13. Lawrence February 6, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    This blog is an example of what Phil Waugh talks about 🙂

  14. Scott Savage May 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    Great blog Chris. Do you find this desire for a hands on leader is particularly true in Australia? I find US managers are expected to remain a little more aloof (join the management club).

    • Chris Savage May 16, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Scott- no, not really a trait of Australian leaders. Horses for courses. Just a good technique if it suits the company culture I think. Chris

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