Lessons and leadership from Bear Grylls’ “The Island”

Lessons and leadership from Bear Grylls’ “The Island”

Bear Grylls The Island on Channel 4 Image used with thanks to Channel 4

Inspired by the first series of Channel 4’s The Island, Glen Manley looks at how this social experiement reveals much about group dynamics and group leadership.

Following the recent Channel 4 broadcast of the latest Bear Grylls project I felt compelled to write a quick article highlighting how captivating the lessons in leadership were conveyed and how these basic principles can come together to deliver success!

Starting a new group from scratch

The group of islandersIf you’ve been watching this five part series you too may have enjoyed this social experiment as it developed, stripping each contestant into their basic characters before the emergence of a leader is both realised as a necessity and acted upon by the group. For those who have not seen the documentary the show takes 13 men from varying professional, religious and social backgrounds, marooning them on a desert island for five weeks. The experience tests each individual to the limits. Armed with some basic training and a few resources, over time the contestants feel the solitude and environment breaking them down. As cracks emerge the following characters take shape within the group…

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Inspiring leaders

Interestingly there were quite a few competent leaders to emerge from the group as the weeks went on. These individuals displayed qualities in:

  • empathy,
  • understanding,
  • intelligence,
  • confidence,
  • outcome focussed,
  • relationship confident,
  • collaborative and
  • inspiring.

By applying these natural skills they showed themselves as perfect ‘supportive leaders’ for the group, ones that would earn the respect and following required to achieve goals that benefit the collective, not the individual.

Emerging leaders

emerging leaders in The IslandAnother group worthy of mention here are those I label as the ‘leaders of tomorrow’, this group more often than not display energy and enthusiasm for success. However these individuals also go through periods of despair, lack of focus and a want to flee. These negatives are usually exposed when confronted by the dominant characters, who often consider this group to be inefficient and the cause of all problems.

The interesting thing for me here was that the Inspiring Leaders were all able to realise the despair felt by these characters and choose to support this group to help push them forward. The Inspirers are able to give this group the self-belief that they are valuable contributors to the collective.

Democratic election

Throughout the programme it is clear the editors and producers are looking to exploit the traits of each individual, I appreciate this is probably not a black and white scenario but the principles of good leadership are excellently conveyed.

Sackie OsakonorBy week 4 the group has become so fractured and dysfunctional a crisis meeting is called to discuss the situation and to reach a conclusion fit for the collective. It is not surprising that nearly all 13 members agreed that they should elect a leader to support the group in a clear direction, I say ‘nearly all’ as our Alphas are not immediately bought into this process, more than likely feeling a little threatened by the collective now. Interestingly, when the group seeks out willing candidates for the leadership election the Alphas keep quiet, knowing that their bullish behaviour and style had not won the hearts on minds of those around them.

Out of this process rose Sackie, why Sackie…? As I mentioned earlier quite a few individuals were competent of the role, my belief is that Sackie held one more skill in greater abundance than the others… communication! Sackie just had the edge in being able to communicate on varying levels with the empathy, understanding and intelligence that earned the trust of the wider group. Not surprisingly our Alphas were not immediately bought into this new leader, however, he proved worthy of the role by staying strong in service of the vast majority of the group when challenged.

For me, the lessons here were about how raw human behaviours play a part in our every day lives. In the context of teams coming together at work here’s some key lessons:

  • Groups are rudderless without a leader.
  • The ‘dominants’ will seek to control through their autocratic ‘sledgehammer’ approach but this is rarely good for all members.
  • All members of a group have a part to play in service of team improvement, it can take different styles of leadership to nurture these contributors and seek their strengths.
  • The best leaders are great communicators who listen to all the members of the team and make the decisions required to take the group towards its collective goal.

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