The Rugby World Cup brings us a fine example of how not to lead and how a team can be successful despite its leader. Leadership has to exist at every level within a team if that team is going to perform consistently well. Leadership will influence and inspire team members to ever greater deeds. But leadership is about ownership and responsibility as well as empathy and understanding
Imanol Harinordoquy summed it up when he said the French team ignored coach Marc Lievremont at the World Cup because he was “lost”. After Lievremont called some of his squad ” spoiled brats” because they went against his instructions not to celebrate their Welsh victory.
“He was lost, I will not miss him,” said number eight Harinordoquy. “It was our adventure. It was meant to be the nice experience of 30 men. We had to free ourselves from his supervision. He cast the stone at us too often. When something goes wrong, we’re all in the same boat. There are no good or bad guys.”
Great teamwork requires leadership to be inclusive rather than autocratic, developing a feeling of us rather than me and them. To do that trust has to be earned on both sides. Trust is earned more easily during testing, difficult and fallow times than it is when things are easy. Just look at the UK’s national cohesion delivered by Hitler through the Second World War. Trust is hard earned but can be lost very quickly if empathy and understanding are missing.
The human phenomenon that is the catalyst of trust is effective communication. Effective communication is open honest and not in any way ambiguous. And communication is about the effect on the receiver rather than the intended message of the sender. So again Empathy and understanding of the receiver’s position is key to effective communication.
Teams are made up of individuals who are entrusted by the team to carry out the roles and duties they are responsible for. So individual responsibility for performance is vital to performance, yet there is also a corporate responsibility held by the team. This is particularly so in professional sport where fan bases and even nations are watching expectantly. Professional sportsmen are no different from businessmen in terms of responsibility. It is here where modern society has a good deal to answer for in terms of allowing the derogation of responsibility. Responsibility is about accepting blame and accepting feedback and using both to foster improvement; all too often responsibility is offloaded like a hospital pass to the nearest source of external influence attributable to the action or behaviour. Externalising protects the weak but also prevents individuals from the identification and self realisation of the key areas requiring development. Sportsmen need to shoulder both individual and corporate responsibility.
Sports teams must be held accountable for all their results, not just the good ones. Sir Clive Woodward is a fine example of someone who built a team around him to deliver success and in that delivery every individual knew their role and owned their individual and the corporate result good or bad. An outstanding team is results oriented and every individual owns their contribution to that performance and owns the whole performance; leaders just as much as any other direct contributor. For that to happen leaders need not blame and carry out retribution but instead they need to honestly identify failure and weakness and coach and develop to influence improvement.
Leadership is all about ownership and responsibility wherever that leadership may be exercised. Self leadership through to corporate leadership entail responsibility and ownership.