What Business Leaders can learn from Rugby

What Business Leaders can learn from Rugby

Even if you’re not a Rugby Union fan, it would have been difficult to escape the coverage of two crucial games in the Rugby World Cup this weekend.  For England and South Africa their games resulted in euphoria and anticipation of the Final next weekend.  For the All Blacks and Wales there was disappointment and despair.  For some players this may be the end of long international careers, for others it was just the start, however, no matter what their age, they will have learnt even more about themselves and their teammates and probably will need to build on their resilience skills.

At Natural Talent I am privileged to Coach both CEOs and retiring Rugby players and athletes.  In the business world, for leaders, managers and team members, there is much to learn and emulate from the world of Rugby, which is why many companies incorporate the All Black Principles in to their own company values and behaviours.  There is a strong correlation between skills and behaviours that are key for success in Rugby and those required for business success; sports Coaches and their teams often display the competencies required for effective Management, Leadership and team collaboration. 

Here are some of the key skills and competencies required for success in Rugby, which are transferable in to the business world:

Communication Skills: Professional Rugby players are used to listening to their Coaches and team mates and learning and using coded pieces of information to communicate on the pitch, such as the forwards shouting line-out calls.  Often, they need to control their body language not to give away their intentions for the next phase of play.  Additionally, most players receive media training and are able to answer challenging questions in a measured way.  Controlling body language, actively listening and the ability to give straight forward answers to complex queries are also valuable skills in a business arena.

Assertiveness: A successful professional sports person needs to have strong self-belief with the right balance of confidence, not arrogance, which are also important attributes required in today’s demanding work environment, in particular for business leaders to have executive presence and come across as authentic.

Diversity and Inclusion: Rugby teams are made up of a wealth of diverse players, not only in terms of physical shapes and sizes, but also with players originating from different countries, cultures and backgrounds.  With Unconscious Bias and Inclusivity being high on the HR agenda, businesses can see the value of diverse teams in the workplace and Board Room.

Building Effective Working Relationships: In order to be effective as a team, players need to be able to cope with competing for places, at the same time as supporting their team mates on and off the pitch.  The ability to forge strong working relationships and to develop mutual trust and respect are key to team success in business and much coveted by many business leaders, who are looking to create an open and honest culture where mistakes are acknowledged and team accountability is important. 

Setting ‘Stretch Goals’:  The Wales and Lions Coach, Warren Gatland, described Wales as having ‘punched massively above our weight’ as a small country competing at the highest level on the international Rugby stage.  In business there is little point in having a short-term, conservative vision for future success, or companies will stagnate and disappear.  The most successful entrepreneurial CEOs and Sales Directors aim very high and obtain buy-in and belief from their teams for their ambitious plans.      

Strategic Awareness: In Rugby, tactics are becoming increasingly important and effective.  Teams which do not assess their competition and match their strengths and weaknesses, or who are not agile enough to adapt their style of play, are often caught out in big games.  In order to remain ahead of the competition, constantly innovate and create business success, organizations need to be able to plan ahead and develop robust strategies, which are reviewed and adapted regularly, with teams and tasks aligned with the company vision and goals.

Managing Conflict: and exhibiting Self-control: Gone are the days when a Rugby match involved a good punch up; players nowadays have to maintain a fine balance between performing to their optimum capability and controlling their aggression to avoid being penalised or even banned for some time.  Again, self-discipline and the ability to challenge constructively are useful skills in a demanding work environment, where stress and interpersonal disputes are on the increase and account for higher attrition rates.

Delegation and Empowerment:  Many managers struggle to delegate work tasks and empower their employees, whereas Rugby players are clear on their own specific role and accepting the delegation of other duties to their team mates, although in the modern game it is more common for props to score tries!  The trend in Rugby Coaching is to empower players to assess their own performance, identify areas of improvement, and share ideas on how to develop and overcome the next opponents.   It’s well-documented that in the workplace the more empowered and valued employees feel, the more engaged and productive they are, which also positively impacts retention levels and the bottom line.

Decision Making: Many Rugby games are won or lost on tight margins or split second decisions under immense pressure; leadership judgement and being decisive are key skills required for leaders to ensure their organizations remain dynamic and competitive.

Planning, Organizing and Preparation:The most successful teams and Coaches don’t leave anything to chance; they have intense focus and attention to detail, analysing data and scenarios and relying on efficient backroom staff to ensure everything that can be controlled runs smoothly.  Many of the most successful CEOs and Sales Diretors will have a regimented approach to their business and leave little to chance.   

Coping with Uncertainty and Pressure and being Resilient: Of course Rugby players are physically resilient with natural presence and gravitas, but mental toughness is also required in order to be able to deal with the disappointment of being dropped from the team, of being injured, or criticised in the media, as well as the ability to bounce back from the inevitability of losing matches.  As the working environment becomes ever more challenging the ability to cope with stress, pressure, uncertainty and change is key to an individual’s health and well-being and often the impact of the team.

Talent Management and Succession Planning:  Some of the most successful Rugby teams have robust Talent Management and Succession Planning to ensure that key players are shadowed by younger players and that there is a good mix of older and younger individuals to create a balance.  Many organizations still don’t have a structured approach to managing talent or planning for succession, which creates issues in particular when a successful leader moves on.

Teamwork: Outside the military, most organizations can only dream of having teams as close-knit, passionate and committed as Rugby teams, where there is a mutually supportive environment, a high degree of professionalism and a healthy dose of camaraderie and banter.

Leadership:  It’s a cliché in business that leaders need to lead by example and take their teams with them.  Again, many business leaders can only look on in admiration at some of the Rugby legends (both players and Coaches) who lead from the front and command total trust and respect from their team members, inspiring and motivating them to achieve their stretch goals. 


About Jill Maidment

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