15 Lessons in Leadership

71wiYQ32D8L._SL1500_A few weeks ago I read an intriguing article about one of the most beautiful sports moments of 2015. It’s the moment Sonny Bill Williams gave his winners medal to a young child after he was tackled by a steward when he ran onto the pitch to greet his heroes after the Rugby world cup in 2015. The article mentioned James Kerr book ‘Legacy‘ which contains a comprehensive description off the All Blacks (the New Zealand men’s rugby team) culture. After reading the book I have to say: this is one of the best books I’ve ever read about leadership! So much wisdom in one book. I was able to translate the lessons learned directly into my own organizational (business) environment. Every team, and basically every individual, should take these lessons into account when aiming to become the best, and leave a legacy.

In this blog post I’ll share the 15 lessons in leadership including my top 3 of favourite quotes. Please read the book for the full context, it’s for sure worth reading.

1. Sweep the Sheds

Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done

  • Successful leaders balance pride with humility: absolute pride in performance; total humility before the magnitude of the task.
  • The challenge is to always improve, to always get better, even when you are the best. Especially when your are the best.
  • A collection of talented individuals without personal discipline will ultimately and inevitably fail. Character triumphs over talent.

2. Go for the Gap

When you’re on top of your game, change your game

  • A winning organization is an environment of personal and professional development, in which each individual takes responsibility and shares ownership.
  • Organizational decline is inevitable unless leaders prepare for change, even when standing at the pinnacle of success.
  • You either adapt, or you lose; and sustainable competitive advantage is achieved by the development of a continuously self-adjusting culture.

3. Play with Purpose

Ask ‘Why?’

  • Better people make better leaders
  • Leaders connect personal meaning to a higher purpose to create belief and a sense of direction.
  • Inspired leaders, organizations and teams find their deepest purpose – their ‘why?’ – and attract followers through shared values, vision and beliefs.

4. Pass the Ball

Leaders create leaders

  • Leaders create leaders by passing on responsibility, creating ownership, accountability and trust. They arm other with intent and then step out of the way.
  • Shared responsibility means shared ownership. A sense of inclusions means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause.
  • By arming staff with intention, leaders can enable people to respond appropriately to changing context, without losing sight of the tactical imperative.

5. Create a Learning Environment

Leaders are teachers

  • Excellence is a process of evolution, of cumulative learning, of incremental improvement.
  • Enlightened leadership promotes a structured system for the development of the team, combined with a tailored map for the development of the individual.
  • Successful leaders look beyond their own field to discover new approaches, learn best practices and push the margins. Then they pass on what they have learned.

6. No Dickheads

Follow the spearhead

  • Fly in formation. Be of one mind. Follow the spearhead. This is the ‘being of team’ and the essence of the successful organization.
  • The being of team begins from inside. High standards must come from within. Leadership works best when your team takes the lead.
  • No one is bigger than the team and individual brilliance doesn’t automatically lead to outstanding results. One selfish mindset will infect a collective culture.

7. Embrace Expectations

Aim for the highest cloud

  • Successful leaders have high internal benchmarks. They set their expectations high and try to exceed them.
  • We learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord with us… Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies or for themselves.
  • By embracing a fear of failure, we can lift our performance, using a healthy loss aversion to motivate us.

8. Train to Win

Practice under pressure

  • Intensity of preparation – ‘training to win’ – conditions the brain and body to perform under pressure. It lets peak performance become automatic. It develops the mindset to win.
  • If you’re not growing anywhere, you’re not going anywhere.
  • Most people have the will to win; few have the will to prepare to win.

9. Keep a Blue Head

Control your attention

  • Bad decisions are not made through a lack of skill or innate judgement: they are made because of an inability to handle pressure at the pivotal moment.
  • Mantras are the way in which we can tell our story to ourselves; they are tools for effective thinking, a mental roadmap in times of pressure.
  • Wise leaders seek to understand how the brain reacts to stress and practice simple, almost meditative techniques to stay calm, clear and connected.

10. Know Thyself

Keep it real

  • The best leaders remain true to their deepest values. They lead their own life and others follow.
  • Leadership begins and ends with authenticity.
  • High-performing teams promote a culture of honesty, authenticity and safe conflict.

11. Sacrifice

Find something you would die for and give your life to it

  • Champions do extra
  • Give everything you have. And a little bit more.
  • Wisdom consists of appreciating the preciousness and finiteness of our own existence, and therefore not squandering it.

12. Invent a Language

Sing your world into existence

  • Leaders are storytellers. All great organizations are born from a compelling story. This central organizing thought helps people understand what they stand for and why.
  • Companies that maintain their core values are those that stand alone, stand apart and stand for something.
  • Based in strong, resonant values, using a common language that employs mantras, mottos and metaphors, storytelling helps leaders connect their people’s personal meaning to their vision of the future.

13. Ritualize to Actualize

Create a culture

  • Inspiring leaders establish rituals to connect their team to its core narrative, using them to reflect, remind, reinforce and reignite their collective identity and purpose.
  • Rituals tell your story, involve your people, create a legacy. Rituals make the intangible real.
  • Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.

14. Be a Good Ancestor

Plant trees you’ll never see

  • True leaders are stewards of the future. They take responsibility for adding to the legacy.
  • Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
  • Our greatest responsibility is to honour those who came before us and those who will come after, to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’.

15. Write Your Legacy

This is your time

  • At the same time as the spiral is going forward, it is also returning.
  • It’s time to make your mark, your contribution.
  • It’s time to leave a legacy. Your legacy.

There you have it, 15 lessons in leadership based on the All Blacks culture. As mentioned before, please read the book for the full context.

PS: sharing these lessons in leadership is done in agreement with the author.

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