When I try to explain SPIKE to friends, colleagues, and indeed the audiences to whom I speak, I struggle for a precise definition.
I have come to realise that’s because there isn’t one.
Like most things that we find difficult to define – love/hate, peace/war – it’s easier to tell you what it isn’t or what it looks like when we see it.
What this approach isn’t is another unit in the ever growing ‘Strength-based leadership/development/coaching’ industry exemplified by the Gallup publications of exponents such as Buckingham and Rath, which has dominated over the past 10 to 15 years.
In fact, I’d be inclined to agree with the views expressed by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor at University College London and Columbia University, given in an interview in the Harvard Business Review (16 January 2016) entitled, Stop Focusing on Your Strengths.
He warned of the potential dangers of concentrating on your strengths alone. He argues that, “most tools and assessments that are designed to find your strengths would simply pick up the thing that you are best at”. I agree and that is precisely the point. A ‘Spike’ is not simply something you are good at. It is something that is your brand, the essence of what you are.
Do what you love
There are many people who are great at certain jobs but actually hate doing them.
Many sports professionals fall into that category. They have not necessarily found their ‘Spike’ but have fallen into their marketable skill. Spike isn’t about positioning yourself for the best paying job – it’s about understanding what the best job is for you.
It’s not about ignoring your weaknesses, it’s about recognising them and making decisions about how best to accommodate them.
When thinking of team environments this means identifying, recognising and developing individual ‘Spikes’ and balancing them in the service of the team.
What separates this approach from the strength-based theorists and practitioners is that it does not try, or even want to provide a guide to success or an online ‘strength finder’ or point the way or be, in any way, a self-help movement.
It does not provide a methodology, rather it attempts to develop a philosophy not for self-help but for self-discovery.
When I’m on stage I say, “If you want to know what your Spikes are just ask a ‘loved one’. Not a work colleague, but someone who has unconditional love for you – mother, father, sister, uncle, partner, niece, gran, husband, wife, daughter, brother, wife etc.. They will want you to succeed and will not play games or compete with you. They will not use management speak but will kick-start your journey of discovery by using terms like: ‘You’re generous’, ‘Your patience is your Spike’, ‘You’re firm but fair’ etc..”
Correcting for bias
Understanding the Spike approach also enables us to tackle the implicit biases to which we are all vulnerable. Far too often our first impression of someone will negatively colour our judgement of them.
This implicit bias can be damaging, especially for women and minorities, and is a constant barrier to greater social mobility. The Spike philosophy can help.
By looking for an individual’s Spike from the outset, we will care less about their ‘first impression’. Searching for someone’s Spikes takes us beyond their gender, race, religion, ability or social status.
But what does ‘Spike’ look like when you see it?
Forgive the footballing metaphor, but this is not a story about football. It’s the perfect example of an individual who at first impressions did not quite look the part.
It is the story of Ferenc Puskás, a Hungarian footballer of the immediate post-war period. Ferenc Gyurcsány, the Prime Minister of Hungary, speaking after Puskas’ death in 2006, said,
“There is not one Hungarian who will be left untouched by the death of Ferenc Puskás. The best-known Hungarian of the 20th century has left, but the legend will always stay with us.”
Puskas scored 83 goals in 84 games for Hungary between 1945 to 1956. The Galloping Major, as he was nicknamed because he was nominally a soldier in the Hungarian army (but only as a player with the Hungarian army team), was part of the Mighty Magyars who bestrode the footballing world in the early to mid-1950s.
They became the first overseas team to beat England on home soil in 1953. As they were warming up for the game, an unnamed English player looked across at Puskas and said, “Look at that little fat chap. We’ll murder this lot”. Hungary beat England that day 6-3 (Puskas scored two goals) and then took them back to Budapest for a 7-1 thrashing.
After the collapse of the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956 Puskas escaped to the West, surfacing in Spain to sign for Real Madrid. In the ensuing years he became central to the Madrid team winning the first five European Cups culminating in the almost mythical 1960 final against Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park, Glasgow, watched by a crowd estimated at 127,000. Madrid won 7-3 and Puskas scored four goals.
But what has that to do with Spike?
Well, another tribute to Puskas by Sir Tom Finney, the England and Preston North End legend, holds a tiny clue.
“[He] had a roly-poly physique but a wonderful left foot and he was a brilliant finisher. I would put Puskas in any list of all-time greats.”
He didn’t look like a footballer. But Finney looked passed the obvious and marveled at the Puskas ‘Spike’, that ‘wonderful left foot’.
Most respected football coaches work on the premise that all footballers will have a favoured foot, which they will naturally try to play every ball with, and work hard to push all players to work on their weaker and less used foot.
When Puskas was asked why he didn’t practice more to make his right foot better he explained that he practiced all day, every day on his left foot to make it near perfect and to worry too much about his other foot would have taken time away from perfecting his left.
He understood what his ‘Spike’ was and appreciated that concentrating on a weakness would have been counterproductive.
In so doing that ‘little fat chap’ became the best-known Hungarian of the 20th century. Not bad for a guy with ‘only one foot’.
About the author:
René Carayol is the author of SPIKE: What are you great at?
He is one of the world’s leading business gurus specialising in leadership, culture and transformation and the best-selling author of the leadership and culture bible, Corporate Voodoo.