Leadership Lessons From Team New Zealand and The All Blacks

1. Expectation. Our expectation of the All Blacks was totally different to our expectation of Team New Zealand. Why? Past experience. As a result our emotions around the two results differed significantly. When the All Blacks win we are picky and worry about the stye of win. When they lose we worry about seeing the sun the next day! Compare that to our emotions around Team NZ.

Insight 1: Manage Expectations. They are hugely powerful. They affect our emotions. As Managers and Leaders we need to do two things – ensure absolute clarity around expectations (our people know what is expected of them) and manage them via that old adage “under promise and over deliver.”

2. Potential. When we interview for new staff, what are we searching for? I’m a great believer in the view that high performance in one environment (company, culture, people, boss etc.) does not necessarily result in high performance in another, different environment. When we interview we are searching for Potential. We are asking ourselves “how will this person perform in our environment?” How many times have we seen individuals who perform brilliantly in one sports team but fail in another. Team NZ is the ultimate team, in a sense. The collective is far greater than the sum of the parts. But the parts are pretty damned good as well, so when we see “synergy,” magic happens. Why? Because each individual in that team has achieved, or been very close to, their potential. At the same time. And how has that happened? Ask Grant Dalton. He never minces his words. Everyone knows what to do. Exactly. Ultimate clarity of expectation! And the All Blacks? That’s a great team too. So why did they “not win?” Did all players achieve their potential at one time on the same day? NO! Why? Ask Steve Hansen. He will be giving that question lots of thought.

Insight 2: Know your people, know their potential, help them reach it

3. Vision. Those Team NZ guys read from the Great Book of Strategy – “throw it out there and see how you can reach it.” This is a wonderful example of what Hamel and Prahalad (“Competing for the Future” – best business book ever written!) call Strategic Intent (Jim Collins called it a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal, but you all knew that). Learn to forget. Be Transformational. Throw it right out there and then, only then, figure out how to get there. Don’t be affected by the past. And if you have a team of individuals reaching their potential, you will find a way. Cyclists, strange shaped foils, mainsail control etc.

And the All Blacks? These guys are good at Vision. They are good planners. They are Strategic. They will improve. Have faith (I said that to someone on Saturday night, frequently!)

Insight 3: If you don’t have a Vision, if you don’t know where you are heading to, any road will get you there. You won’t be able to understand the difference between good strategic actions and bad. And, as a result, you will probably fail.

4. The Power of a Crisis. It was John Kotter (“Leading Change” and “The Heart of Change”) that said change in an organisation will not happen unless there is a “Sense of Urgency” (yes he wrote a book on that as well!) If you don’t have a crisis, manufacture one! If you are feeling pretty comfortable in a yacht regatta and think you are faster than anyone else, pitch pole your boat and generate some urgency! It is not surprising that members of team NZ have been relating the importance of that near disaster. It brought the team even closer. It gave all members the chance to play their part, over and above their normal role. It brought a huge sense of purpose.

The All Blacks have won a lot in recent times. Their coaches often talk about the constant need to do things differently and keep improving. But when you are winning, all the time, you get lazy. You can’t help it, it’s part of the Human condition. The culture in that team is based on a fear of failure, and psychologists will tell you time and again that is not a good motivator (its worked since 1905 so it can’t be that bad.) But when they do lose, or draw (an All Black loss!) much navel gazing ensues. Out of that reflection will come insights, out of those insights will come different actions and improvement (you all know this!) And each member will reflect on their own performance and what they need to do to achieve their potential.

Insight 4: A sense of urgency is critical for change to occur. Without it, reflection suffers and the status quo becomes our standard. When you own the company urgency is easy. When you’re an employee, it’s not. Maybe a small crisis is necessary?!

Be well, stay focused and achieve your potential

Cheers Phil


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