Over 120 million viewers tuned into the Rugby World Cup 2015 Final between New Zealand and Australia on October 31st, 2015. The All Blacks went on to retain the coveted Webb Ellis Trophy with a resounding victory over their Trans-Tasman neighbours and I had the pleasure to be part of one of the official broadcasting teams transmitting from the sidelines.
Joining me on the hallowed turf of Twickenham for the post match interviews was former All Black great Josh Kronfled; he and I had the privilege of interviewing Jerome Kaino, Beauden Barrett, and Kevin Mealamu. Now that the dust has settled and I have had time to reflect, it has struck me again how much these giants of sport have to say to business leaders. Here are four key lessons to take from the triumphant All Blacks.
- Humility Breeds Success
A lot of press and social coverage has been made of Sonny Bill Williams’ kind act, giving his winner’s medal to a young fan. The fact is that his attitude of humility is shared by the whole team and it was evident in our post-match interviews. When we spoke to Kevin Mealamu he was concise and deliberate in his summary, relieved to state “I am done” in reference to his retirement. His humility as he thanked all the people that have assisted him over his long career epitomised what we have all come to love about the way the All Blacks conduct themselves. You can tell this commitment to the team is more than lip service because you can also see it in the way they play. Even up-and-coming stars such as Beauden Barrett – who oozed confidence when we interviewed him and has won the opportunity to take over the number 10 jersey after impressive finishes in the All Blacks’ last few big wins – clearly play for the success of the unit, not themselves. It is important to remember that this sort of humility is not simply the right way to conduct oneself after great successes – sharing praise with your wider team – but rather an attitude that must exist before success can be achieved in the first place. It is no surprise or coincidence that consecutive World Cup winners show such a strong team culture or that this manifests itself in humility on and off the pitch.
- The Role of Data
I would be willing to bet nobody would expect to see this on my list, yet here it is. The All Blacks dominated this tournament by winning the numbers game. All of their metrics were phenomenal: clean breaks, defenders beaten, counter attacking metres, metres carried, offloads, lineout steals, and more. Much like in a business environment, these key performance indicators are trained for and focused on, because it’s been identified that these lead to success metrics: tries scored and points on the board. What I think is useful to meditate on, however, is the fact that while they are on the field the All Blacks don’t have access to live metrics; they can’t possibly focus in every moment on the numbers and how to improve them, yet they hit targets anyway. This is also often the case in businesses – many can’t develop live management information, either due to the nature of the data or the cost implications of live collection and reporting. So whilst data analysis is important, it is useless unless it is used to train certain goal-oriented habits that become ingrained into your team, such that hitting KPIs is something they can do habitually on a day to day basis, even if they can’t see the immediate results in the data. Training is key, yet often neglected.
- Getting Involved
When we spoke to Jerome Kaino on the sidelines after the victory, he was keen to stress how the captain, the venerable Ritchie McCaw, continued to be the leading on-field protagonist. Kaino felt that it was McCaw’s irrepressible focus that kept the team on the edge throughout the gruelling challenge of the final. The take-away here is the old lesson of leading by example – whilst leadership is a particular skill and task which is entirely essential, rugby captains must be involved in delivering as well. There is no room for leaders that separate themselves from the daily success of an organisation’s work and don’t contribute in a meaningful and visible way.
- External Forecasts
Going into the tournament as the reigning champions, the All Blacks had good reasons to favour their chances. Nevertheless, the UK broadsheets seemed to concur before it began that this was the most open tournament in its history, with one stating that ‘any one of seven teams could win it’. Now, while there is of course always room for upsets in both sport and business, the All Blacks ended up winning convincingly enough to suggest it wasn’t as open as anticipated. What is the lesson to be drawn from this? Don’t let outside commentators tell you what you can or can’t achieve. Whilst external opinion can be a powerful market force, it should be shaped by your performance – not the other way around. If your performance is shaped by the opinions of others, you haven’t got your head in the game.
There are many more lessons for leaders to learn from sporting greats such as the All Blacks; this list is not meant to be exhaustive and I would encourage readers to find their own lessons in the success of others outside of their own field. As examples of teamwork, goal-orientation, focus, preparation, humility, and courage, rugby teams remain an inspiration for those willing to find it, regardless of their profession.
Image: Scott Gibbs (left) with Kevin Mealamu, RWC 2015 winner, and Josh Kronfeld.