What The Legendary All Blacks Rugby Team Can Teach U.S. Businesses About Leadership
New Zealand's men's national rugby union team, known as the All Blacks, is considered one of the greatest sports teams in the world. The team has a 77% winning record in test match rugby, and since the introduction of the World Rugby Rankings in 2003, the All Blacks have been in the No. 1 spot longer than all other teams combined.
A team with this winning legacy needs to have exceptional leadership at the helm — the type of leadership whose lessons can extend beyond the pitch and into the boardroom.
James Kerr is a bestselling author and performance expert who wrote the book Legacy about the history of the All Blacks, how they became one of the most successful teams of all time and how the leadership style embraced by the team throughout the years can be employed in the business world.
Kerr was the guest on this week’s Walker Webcast, during which he discussed how all winning teams employ the same basic ideas: a relentless focus on excellence, a commitment to a collective cause, individual autonomy and candid communication.
Leaving The Jersey In A Better Place
One phrase Kerr heard regularly during the time he spent with the All Blacks was “leaving the jersey in a better place.” He said this referred to adding to the legacy of the team, representing all those who have come before and all those who will come after. Kerr said this is a powerful metaphor not only for the All Blacks but for teams of all types, including business teams.
“I think it's a fantastic question to ask of ourselves: What are we going to do with our time here in this particular team, what will our legacy be and how will we leave our metaphorical jersey in a better place?” Kerr said.
He added that companies' metaphorical jerseys could be anything from a major project to the business’s core mission, and teams need to be focused on what they can do to move whatever their jersey may be forward.
One way Kerr said organizations can encourage their teams to embrace this mentality is by giving them a clear purpose, one that is practical, vivid and clear. One example he gave is how Microsoft’s goal was to put a personal computer on every desk and in every home. Too often, he said, a company’s purpose is too conceptual, something along the lines of “we want to make a more sustainable company for a more sustainable future.” He said that while that’s a laudable goal, it doesn’t imprint on the mind in the same way something more tangible will, such as “we want to fill a city with driverless cars.”
“The simple, vivid articulation of something worth playing for becomes extraordinarily powerful,” Kerr said.
Singing The World Into Existence
Kerr said great leaders are great storytellers who are able to paint a vivid picture of the realities they want and “sing their world into existence.”
Sometimes this could mean making changes in order to adjust to what is going on in the world. Kerr cited a recent article in the Harvard Business Review that suggested leadership may need to change at this moment in time from a focus on “doing” to a focus on “being.”
This means leaders need to be focusing less on getting stuff done and more on who their company is and why what they do matters. Creating a sense of meaning and purpose within a team can be especially difficult when people are working at home, apart from one another, but it is even more crucial right now.
Character Is Key
Kerr said that character is absolutely vital for any successful team, and sometimes it is the most talented members who bring teams down because they lack the right character traits to support them. Kerr recommended that the way businesses can avoid being brought down by these types of “jerks,” as he called them, is to create a business structure that isn't reliant on any one individual.
He said that sports teams have their most important conversations in the preseason, discussing standards and expectations, what they are going for and what they expect from each other. These conversations rarely happen in business groups, he said, but they should.
“[Companies are] trying to be on the same team, but they are not on the same team because they never formed a team,” Kerr said. "They’ve never had the important conversations about their boundaries and their guidelines. One way to deal with that is to have those conversations.”
On Aug. 11, Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker will host JBG Smith CEO Matt Kelly. Register here for the event.
This article was produced in collaboration between Walker & Dunlop and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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