These days I am 6ft 4″ and carry a few extra pounds.
However there was a time when I was 5ft 4″, skinny as a rake and sought after by rowing crews as a cox. Yes the small person who sits in the back of the boat – barking a very limited range of orders and making small adjustments to direction with a tiny rudder.
Truth of the matter is that as a cox I could achieve very little. I could urge the rowers to give more effort, or even get them to ease off a little if they are in danger of peaking too early. I could plot the best course possible. But that was just about it.
I couldn’t really see what was going on in the boat. I could tell just how hard the crew was currently working (the stroke rate) and could ask for extra effort in short bursts to try to get the boat ahead of the competition. I could make some educated guesses at what individuals were doing by watching how their oars moved through the water.
I couldn’t coach the crew. The coach would usually be be seen on the bank, riding a bicycle and shouting instructions to the rowers.
In terms of really helping the crew to improve performance – well that was out of my hands. I could just get the best out of them on the day. I would do this by putting their effort into context. Keeping them informed about whether we were catching the opposition or not. About how far we had to go before a bend came into our favour or we reached the finish line.
All I could do was create a context in which the crew were likely to give me more effort.
And I meet a lot of managers who work just like a cox. They tell good stories and demand more effort in return for prizes. But they never get their bike onto the river bank to really understand what is going on in the boat.
They miss a lot of chances, that a cox never has, to develop their crew.