By Tony Vidler
A remarkable story is unfolding in rugby union, and there are lessons for all business leaders in it. The Australians play the reigning world champion New Zealanders in the Rugby World Cup final, and regardless of whether the Australians win or lose this weekend the transformation in culture and leadership that delivered them the opportunity to be in the final is worth looking at.
The New Zealand All Blacks are the undisputed heavyweights of world rugby, with an unparalleled record of success for more than 100 years, winning over 76% of their test matches against all other nations in that time. Quite simply, they are the most successful sports team of all time. And they repeat their success year after year after year, relentlessly. They head into this world championship decider as the favourites, as usual.
Just on a year ago the Australian Rugby Union changed their coach. At the time Australia was competitive internationally, being ranked about 6th best in the world perhaps. The team had internal divisions, poorly disciplined players in the squad, and disharmony in its ranks.
A year later they are transformed into an energetic, disciplined, focussed team that is playing beautifully. They have a wonderful mix of elan and attacking flair, and gritty “no surrender” defence. They are the one team in the world that just might give the mighty New Zealanders a bloody nose. But how did they transform, and what can we learn from it?
There is no doubt that the new coach brought strong leadership, and that he transformed the culture of the team. It is the type of leadership, and how the culture was transformed that is most interesting for businesses though.
Micheal Cheika’s leadership centres upon setting clear expectations and direction for his team members, and then trusting them to be grown-ups who can do their jobs well. By all accounts that clarity of direction is not rooted in a grand vision and large aspirational goals that merely motivate people, but in much smaller goals that each individual can self-manage and focus upon. He treats each game – or each week – as a new experience, and only talks about the next task. The next game. He coaches his players to concentrate on their part and tasks that matter – not the bigger grander plan. They then focus on their own skills and role.
Perhaps most importantly he empowers and trusts his people to perform as professionals. No curfews, no rules around whether they can have a drink or not….none of the restrictive micro-managing that is prevalent in professional sport. He trusts his people to do what they know is right – and they respond accordingly. They step up.
The cultural change is rooted in values. The often apparent arrogance of the past within the team has disappeared. Genuine humility prevails, and genuine respect for team mates and opposition is apparent. Confidence and support for each other within the team is obvious in a hundred different ways. Their self-belief in their collective ability has swamped the egotistical star element that existed previously.
It is truly a remarkable transformation in such a short time. As an avid fan I have watched closely along the way, and key steps for me that I think every business could learn from are:
The result is a culture of high trust and camaraderie, where people are encouraged to attempt excellence. Falling short occasionally is accepted, but lacking effort is not. Individual responsibility and accountability to team mates is more important than hierarchy. Individuality is encouraged and embraced, but must respect the the needs of the group as a whole.
And the leader stays focussed on 3 core things: