Rugby and Leadership

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Business | Posted on 04-04-2010

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One of my teammates from the Village Lions sent me a great New York Times interview on business leadership and rugby with InterContinental Hotel Groups CEO Andrew Cosslett.

As a business person by day, rugby player by night, there’s a lot I can connect with. In particular this section on leading teams:

Good teams are easy. But if you’ve been a captain of bad teams and you’ve had to find a way of making the team believe in itself and have a hunger to do something — which involves a lot of sacrifice and pain and training and fitness and all that stuff — that’s a lot harder. And I’ve done a fair amount of that.

That whole notion of getting beaten up and actually losing a lot and still having the vision and the confidence out front is a huge part of leadership. It’s a belief, a conviction and confidence in the future prospects of what you’re trying to do, and just keeping the flag flying no matter what’s going on around you.

I learned that by captaining bad teams. When you’re getting beaten by 60 points on a rugby field and everyone’s walking around with broken noses, it’s really hard. But you learn that you either fail or you find a way of dealing with it. And everyone’s different, so you have to know people. I think having a sense of self-awareness is very important, like how you impact each of the people you’re with differently.

Q. Can you elaborate on that?

A. The whole thing about staying alive on a rugby field is about reliance on the guys around you. Each one of those people on a rugby team responds differently because it’s physically dangerous as a game. It has a tension in the changing room before you go out to play that’s not like any other sport, and I’ve played lots, because it is almost like going into battle. There’s a chance you’re going to break your neck or have a very bad injury.

You need to gel with them as a team, but each one responds individually. So it’s about seeing the world on their terms and then dealing with them on their terms, not yours.

He closes the interview with what I think is some superb advice for young professionals:

Q. What’s your best career advice to somebody who has just graduated from college?

A. Leave home. Go as far away as possible from what you know. I think you’ve got to be tested, and you’ve got to test yourself. So my best career advice would be life advice. Go and find out who you are and what you can deal with and put yourself in some positions that will be distinctly uncomfortable. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is a great learning in life.

The second would be: keep asking questions. There’s a lot of perceived wisdom in most industries that haven’t hasn’t been challenged for years. The trick in business is not to care too much. Because if you care too much, you won’t ask questions and you won’t challenge because you’ll care too much about your position and what someone’s thinking about you.

I was always relatively cavalier in my early career because I always thought if I don’t make it in business, I’ll go and do something else anyway. I always have given 100 percent to everything I’ve done, but I’ve always had a slightly maverick side that actually stood me in great stead, because it enabled me to ask those difficult questions and be the burr under the saddle.

The third one is: have a sense of humor. It’s a lot easier to get through most things if you’ve got a smile on your face. It doesn’t have to be a chore. So just lighten up.

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