Leadership lessons from Eddie Jones

It is that time of year when groups of men gather from all corners of Europe and come together to represent their countries by putting their bodies on the line: yes, the 6 Nations is here again. This tournament provides some fascinating insights in to leadership every year: how do you motivate people to give their best in an environment where there is real risk to their health? What are the leadership lessons that can be used in everyday scenarios?

There was an interesting interview with Eddie Jones, the England coach, in The Times last weekend. Most of the article talks about his story and how he has dealt with adversity in his career. His response to the question “what is your most valuable experience as a rugby coach?” was instructive: “Raising my 23-year-old daughter.” He is certainly not the first to draw the parallel between leadership and parenting. Simon Sinek has a very popular video on TED, where he talks about parenting involving setting boundaries, encouraging your children, disciplining them when necessary and wanting them to have a better life and more success than you have. That is exactly what a leader wants for their team, too.

Jones also makes the valid point that you cannot be authoritarian and impose your will all the time as a leader or a parent. You should be more sympathetic and engage with your team and your children so they can make the right decisions for themselves.

It also talks about some of the cultural issues he has faced, particularly working with the Japanese national rugby team and encouraging them to take ownership of their own destiny. The success of that approach was demonstrated at the last World Cup, with the Japanese achieving a historic victory over South Africa.

With England, he took over when the players were at a very low ebb. They had just made history as the first host nation to be dumped out of the tournament at the group stages. With essentially the same squad, he took England to a Grand Slam the following year. So how did he do it?

He has made the team self-policing about their behaviour off the pitch. Contrast that with the approach being taken by the national football team after Wayne Rooney had a good evening with a wedding party after winning a match against Scotland: uproar and calls for an official code of conduct. Jones has nothing written down and discipline in the team has improved.

He is utterly focused on personal performance and players taking ownership of their fitness. There are many stories of him being very direct about his expectations and the results that he wants to see. Direct communication at the right time is sometimes needed to make sure there is no misunderstanding about the outcome required. He also leaves the method to achieve the results up to the individual, which is a good delegation technique.

He is not trying to teach the players how to play rugby. In the professional era, a good level of technical skill is a given. However, he is spending time teaching them how to be a team. Organisations underestimate how much effort this takes. And it is not a one-shot exercise: team building needs to be an ongoing activity otherwise the depth of relationships needed for a team to work well together will never be built.

He recognises that a one-size-fits-all style does not work. Every individual has different emotional needs and need a different approach to ensure their buy-in to the team and give their best on the field.

However, he doesn’t tolerate anything less than full commitment and as an unnamed member of the squad said: “that is as it should be.”

So the challenge for leaders in other organisations is: this approach is proven. How much of it are you doing on a daily basis?

3 proven leadership lessons from sports coaches

When it comes to finding inspirational leadership within the massive sports arena, you need look no further than the coach. Sports stars are often well-rewarded for their efforts on the pitch but they still have to be motivated to put their bodies on the line – often with real risk of injury or death. The person that does this is the coach. This one-man miracle has the power to make or break a team of trained athletes. Typically, he or she becomes more than equal to the sum of the parts that make up the actual team. Here we discuss three leadership lessons from sporting greats that have proven time and time again to be worth their weight in sporting gold.

1) Preparation is everything

The only way to have a chance of overcoming your opponent, in any field, is by studying both their strengths and weaknesses. For a sports team or athlete, this usually involves watching videos of their performances and analysing their key strategy. This can be applied to any team of employees by analysing everything from management structure and business objectives to the infrastructure and marketing campaigns of competitors. But it’s not enough just to absorb all of this information; a powerful leader needs to have worked out counter measures that will enable the team to both overcome and nullify their opponent’s best moves.

In terms of famous coaches who believe in this ethos, you would have to go a long way to find a better example than Freddie Roach. Roach trained many world champion boxers including Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya. His training methods involved watching hours of videos of the opposition and the results speak for themselves.

2) Be patient

Putting new strategies into place can take months and even years, especially if they are a drastic departure from the tactics already being followed. A good coach understands why this is the case but he or she should also be able to explain the value of being patient as far as these changes are concerned.

Sometimes a team – whether in sports or business – will have to face quite a few losses before any improvements start to have a positive effect. Keeping both confident and happy isn’t an easy task but needs to be done each and every time that you lose faith. Sweden’s Lars Lagerback is the epitome of a patient man. Having never played professional football himself, Lagerback spent more than ten years coaching in the lower divisions before getting the call from the Swedish FA.

3) Shouting is not teaching

We’ve all seen the coaches who seem to be enjoying yelling their respective heads off when the going gets tough. This is not the way a great coach gets their point across. Essentially, teaching and leading are the same thing, so being aggressive is never going to yield those results that your business depends upon.

One such example of a coach that never seems to lose his temper is Glen Mills. The Jamaican sprint coach who has trained none other than Usain Bolt to multiple World and Olympic titles, is a quiet but determined man who is always there to dispel any self doubt in his squad members.

When it comes to improving team morale and cohesive working, these three qualities of a successful sporting coach can be applied to any workplace. For advice on how St Andrews Consulting can help create leaders in your team, contact us today.

Building a team to do something we have never done before….

“Change is constant and the pace is getting quicker” is the common wisdom and I haven’t seen anything that disproves it. This means that organisations and teams need to change and evolve constantly. As internal and external forces act on them or their area of operations change, they have to react. Often organisations need to do something new or different to get the organisation to grow, service new or different customers, deal with staff changes etc. etc. This cycle of change means that there needs to be a constant focus on improving operations and also building the team to make sure it is capable of delivering what is needed.

Sometimes the shift in focus is even bigger than that. New products, new services, new technology or new markets mean that the organisation needs to do things differently or do something new. So how do you build a team to do something that you have never done before?

As ever, sport provides some interesting parallels that we can use. Football is the obvious choice but I would like to look at the approach being taken to win the oldest sporting trophy in the world, one that we have never won before: the America’s Cup.

As in other team sports, sailing a yacht is very much a group activity that takes skill, practice, fitness and passion to succeed at. Overarching all of those things are teamwork and communications. It is perfectly possible for a better led, less fit but stronger team to beat one that has “better” people in it. That is not to say that other attempts to win the cup haven’t focused on teamwork. They have but they have started in a different place than the current team: they have recruited the most capable sailors possible and tried to build them in to a team.

Numerous times in my career I have heard or read job ads that talk about “we only hire the best”, “you need to be outstanding in your field”, “I want the best sales and marketing director!” etc. etc. And how many times have we known someone like that moving on quite quickly? Leaders underestimate the damage that can be caused by recruiting an extreme “alpha-male” ego in to an organisation. Yes, there will be some disruption whoever gets recruited as that is what happens in the team lifecycle. There will need to be some team building done in all cases but successful teams contain members who are willing to join in for the benefit of the organisation. However, “rock stars” often aren’t as there is little in it for them: they are utterly focused on getting what they need to do done – often to the detriment of others.

Sir Ben Ainsley, one of our most decorated Olympians, is choosing to do something different. He has realised that teamwork is vital so he has looked for sailors that are “good enough” or “fit enough” to work with but who also work well together. He has taken the approach that the whole team, including himself, are on a journey together and that they will all improve and succeed or fail together.

All the news from the team is here: http://land-rover-bar.americascup.com/

We will find out next year whether his team will finally bring the cup back to the UK after over 130 years of trying.

Bad News and Leadership – Part 2

Bad news girlIn the last blog article, I took at an example of best practice when bad news comes from within your team. However, bad news can also come from anywhere else. For example, it could be from external sources or the rest of the management team. Even changing business circumstances can (and should) make it obvious that action needs to be taken and change needs to happen. It doesn’t really matter what the nature of the change is, some will see it as bad news.

As before, you cannot avoid it and its potential impacts on your team. It is also highly unlikely that you are going to have all the answers at the outset. As always, honesty is the best policy. People will know when you are being cagey or hiding something. Being authentic as a leader is a vital quality that helps build loyalty and trust, particularly in times of uncertainty.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the bush telegraph in the office works very, very quickly. And on the back of very little information, some supposition and a whole lot of leaping to conclusions! This means that it is unlikely that you are likely to manage to keep things completely quiet. Therefore, communications and message management are going to become a key activities for you as events unfold.

As I said before, any change will be viewed as bad by someone in the team and you will need to explain what is going to happen. However, the key thing is the “why?” You must also describe the options you looked at, why the choice of that particular path was made and the benefits the change will bring. It is vitally important that your team appreciate that their leadership have explored all the options and made a rational decision, rather than one based on gut feel. It is also important that the team appreciate that the organisation is more important than any one member of it and that a fair solution to the issue has been sought.

Finally, you need to communicate all this:

  • use the most appropriate methods
  • present information in ways that all personalities can understand
  • be consistent with your message and be positive about the way forward

People look to their leadership for a sensible, rational way forward to a place that is better than where they are now. Your job is to communicate that vision and keep on communicating it. In fact, it isn’t possible to over-communicate about change, the rationale for it and where you are going as a team.


photo credit: Bad Girl via photopin (license)

Bad news and leadership – Part 1

Bad news is not the best thing in the world but as a leader but you do have to listen to it, deal with it, work with its implications, results and possibly take decisive action because of it. Over the next couple of blog articles I am going to look at aspects of how you can deal with different types of bad news as a leader. The first one of these is the type that can come from within your team or somewhere else in your organisation.

Picture the scene, and we have all been there: you are on the way to an important meeting or to do something else; your phone rings or someone approaches and you hear the words that mean that something potentially big is coming: “Hello, it is XXXX, have you got a couple of minutes?” Or “Are you aware of….”

The first thing to do in this scenario is get ready to listen. If someone is taking the (potentially brave) step of flagging something up to you, you owe it to them to listen and concentrate on what they are trying to tell you. This is one of those things that must be dealt with at the time it happens. You might have to shuffle your diary or change your plans to accommodate it, but you must find the time for it. If you don’t, then how valued do you think that person will feel? Even if you schedule a meeting later in the day with the person, the chances are the key message will be lost as the mood and motivation will have gone.

Part of getting ready for listening is getting the environment right. If the office is open-plan or the meeting happens on the shop floor, then the chances are that people won’t speak freely and the true problem won’t be identified. So, move somewhere with a bit of quiet and privacy and switch your phone to silent, or off, so you can focus on the person you are meeting with.

This may be a small issue that won’t take too much time or effort but also, it could be an “Enron” which could place the entire organisation in jeopardy but you won’t know until you get more information – lots more! So, before you start jumping to conclusions or planning solutions, get all the relevant information. Some personalities (in MBTI terms, ES’s and EN’s in particular) like to do their thinking “out loud” so won’t necessarily listen or gather all the data before they start speaking. This is a mistake in this scenario so give the person time and space to give you the whole story before coming to any conclusions. You may well find that you have to get information from other people or have to use some constructive questioning techniques to get to the root cause of what is going on.

The other key thing to find out is: what the person is hoping will happen as a result of the conversation. Obviously, some things are more possible/likely than others but you need to manage their expectations about the likely outcome at this early stage. If appropriate, you will also have to keep them updated as events unfold.

Finally, you need to promise some form of investigation or action to resolve the point(s) that have been raised to you. Sitting on it or ignoring it is not an option as it will lose both you and the organisation credibility. Taking action may harm you politically but if you are going to be an authentic leader, then you need to do something about it.

I know of a couple of organisations where a team flagged a particular circumstance that would have grave financial consequences to their leadership for 2 years before those circumstances actually happened. With a bit of analysis, planning and open communication, the organisations would have been in a far better shape to weather the financial storm that engulfed them. And the leadership of those organisations would be far more credible and supported in the future by those teams….

So, in summary:

  • Bad news can come from anywhere and you need to listen to all of it – particularly when it comes from within your organisation.
  • You may need to re-schedule or re-plan your day a result of spending time receiving it.
  • Listening is key before getting in to solutions/actions mode.
  • You then have to take action – ignoring it is not an option – even if it harms you politically.
  • Communications with key stakeholders, as ever, are key.

Changing team members to improve performance

Sport continues to provide some excellent team scenarios that all leaders can learn from. I have used football management as a source of inspiration before and there was more useful advice earlier this year. Sam Allardyce is the current manager of West Ham United FC. He was talking about the realism needed about expectations once major changes have been made to a squad. He used the example of making 9 changes to a group of players and the fact that it takes time to bed down the team. He was forthright about the fact that club owners view changing team members to be a magic bullet to improve results. Rightly, he said that it takes time to do the team building activities required to bring people together and raise performance to the level expected.

So what does that mean for leaders in business? As in football, in business team members need to feel valued and it takes time to build the mutual trust required for mutual reliance. The key thing is spending time together planning, training and testing so that everyone knows how people are going to react to scenarios and who best to use in given circumstances.

It also means that if there are changes to an established group – whether it is performing well or not – there needs to be a period of bedding in. Leaders need to invest in the team, both time and money, for development activities to reduce the time and lost performance that will be the impact of the changes. Even if a leader brings in people who are high performers to drive a step change in delivery, then it will still take time for the everyone to come together and find the new level.

A personal example of this: I used to the in the Royal Navy and the policy was for “trickle drafting” so a ship’s company was always gradually changing. This meant that things were always in a bit of flux in the team. It was only when the ship was deployed and the crew was static for 6 or so months that the team properly came together, aired the issues that needed to be raised and resolved, and learned to trust and rely on each other. The change in atmosphere when the ship returned to the UK and the team started to change again was marked and very rarely positive. It often took significant amounts of training and practice to return the ship to the state of performance it had before.

In summary: if you are changing your team, particularly to improve results, then do not expect progress to happen instantaneously. There is lots of work to be done to take the team to its new level.

Player motivation at the world cup – Part II

I found some of the over and under-achievement by various teams at the football world cup earlier this year fascinating. I am going to take a look at some of the issues that this raised, particularly around motivation, and also the impact on the management of teams in the UK Premiership.

As a non-football fan, I find the impact of teams such as Costa Rica incredible. It is a small country, who were fully behind their team and the players knew this. There didn’t appear to be any “rock stars” but there was a shared ethos, passion and team spirit that meant that meant that everyone wanted to raise their performance to avoid letting their team and their country down.

Let’s contrast that approach with those of Brazil or Portugal: both of these countries relied on superstars. This has some real risks: if the superstar is not playing at their best – everyone has off-days…. – then the whole team won’t get the results they want. Also, if they get injured or suspended, then the rest of the team need to raise their game which may not be that easy in the heat of a tournament. Another way this approach could cause problems is that the superstar can mask the shortfalls in performance of the rest of the team. Then, if they have an off day, the superstar can be working hard with no hope of getting the win they are looking for. This is very demotivating and also presents some physical risks around injury and fatigue.

So why is all this relevant to managers and leaders in organisations? Is your team heavily dependent on one key player who masks shortfalls in other team members? If they are having an off day, on holiday or even off sick, does the performance of your organisation sink? Will their motivation and performance dip if they feel they are not being supported by the rest? Another reason for this being important is that the reliance on one key individual or small group presents a real risk to the business: what happens if they decide to leave, or retire or are incapacitated long term? It is your job as the leader to look at the bigger picture and try and mitigate those obvious risks that could do the organisation damage at a later date.

There was an African side who, famously, had their appearance money flown to Brazil during the tournament. The incident raises a number of issues: is money really a suitable motivator for people to put their bodies on the line for their team or country. Bearing in mind the amount of money in football at the moment, and the massive amount that the stars are being paid then money really doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to them. This was really an issue of trust: the players didn’t really trust the parent associations to pay them what had been agreed to go to the tournament. Not a good way to encourage loyalty and high performance!

The issue of trust is a key one: you have to trust that your team are going to deliver for you and more importantly, they have to believe that you are going to deliver for them.

Finally, the Premiership season has just started again and there has been some discussion in the media about preparation and key team members’ readiness for the new campaign. Fatigue and injury before key activities and high pressure situations are not good things, so my question to you is: are there key people in your team that are permanently working under pressure? Who are so important that they are always busy and your whole team relies on them?

If there are, then what are you doing to provide them with the recovery time (and thanks) that they need to make sure that they are operating at peak performance when you really need them?

The World Cup – how business can learn about motivation from football – Part 1

I will hold my hands up and say that I am not a football fan. I really don’t get the fuss. And the fact that I can’t have a beer whilst I am sat in the ground watching a game means that I am highly unlikely to spend the approx. £90 to go and see a premiership match in the UK.

However it is interesting to watch what is happening in the managerial area of the game, particularly at a national level. It is always going to be hard to motivate a group of people who are (generally) hugely rewarded compared to the rest of the population to put their bodies on the line for their team and country. The recent world cup tournament showed some very different styles and some very different levels of success in motivation.

At the very top of the game – and I am talking top 10 countries in the world – it is likely that fitness levels are likely to be fairly close: certainly within a few percent in any given position. It is also likely that skill levels are broadly similar: ie each footballer puts in a suitable amount of effort in training to hone their skills to the level needed to play internationally. Yes, there are the superstars of the game with exceptional levels of skill, but the majority of the players are good enough to be playing in the tournament.

This means that there are a few areas remaining as variables, pretty much all of which the manager has a big input in to: the team selection, the tactics, the formation to be used and, finally, the motivation he imparts to the players.

Have a think about some of the teams that were at the tournament: who over-achieved? Who under-achieved? Why do you think that was?

In a couple of weeks, I will post another blog with some ideas that I have got.

Being a leader… a lonely place?

How can you be lonely when you are working with other people? Leaders are in a position where they are directing an organisation or a group of people – otherwise they wouldn’t be leaders. This means that they have to have a broad perspective on what is happening around their group and be thinking about how they are going to react and what changes may be necessary to achieve their aims – both for themselves and their organisation. So they are thinking on 3 levels: strategic (what is going to happen in the distant future), tactical (what do I need to get done in the short term) and the organisational (what do I need to implement to position us for the future).

This is a different level of thinking to the majority of the rest of the group. Their focus is getting their tasks done and other aspects of their lives. This means that they are not looking a distance ahead and it is likely that the need for change is going to be a surprise. Their perspective is most likely: what does this mean for me? Do I need to work harder? Is my job/role safe?

This difference in perspective means that the person in a leadership role needs in a very different mental space from the rest of the team or group. They may also have more information about what is going on or they may have access to other resources that their team members don’t.

Can you be friends with people that you are leading? Probably not: you may have to make difficult decisions and in that case, the needs of the team and organisation are paramount. Also, if your team think you have favourites, then that can weaken your credibility as a leader.

So: not only does the leader have to be the dynamo that drives the organisation and sets its direction, they also are working alone when they are doing it. This means that you have to have other aspects of your life that can provide the relationships that humans need to thrive. A lonely place? At work, unfortunately yes.

Not being afraid to change direction

One of the main functions of leadership is setting out a vision for the future and defining the path to get there. This doesn’t involve too much detail or analysis but letting your team know what you are thinking and the benefits of achieving the aims you set out.

The paths we and our organisations take is rarely (never!) linear. Life is not static, change is happening all around us.  Sometimes we drive this change, sometimes it is imposed upon us, but in both cases the effect is the same: the aim and the plan may need to be revisited. Even if the end point still looks right, then it is highly likely that your predicted route will have to adapt to the new circumstances.

As a leader, you have to take account of changes that you can foresee as well as those that happen along the way. This means you need to be both proactive in looking ahead but also reactive to circumstances. When things change, then a leader must not be afraid to re-evaluate both the aim and the predicted path they are taking their team along.

This means that flexibility and adaptability are vital weapons in a leader’s armoury as they should always be looking at new ways of delivering their aims. Teams get confidence from a leader that demonstrates that they are capable of using new information or circumstances to improve the plan as it shows they are listening and paying attention to what is going on around them. It also shows that they have the courage to change direction when it is required rather than sticking to what they may know best.

In summary: don’t be scared of changing your approach or plan in the face of new information or changing circumstances. Being too rigid can mean that you get left behind….

Don’t be afraid of changing tack