One of the big passions in my life is rugby union. That’s why I watched the Rugby World Cup 2015 with a mix of emotions. Among them, incredulity at Craig Joubert’s departure from the field and pleasure at the pearls of wisdom from its commentators. I also watched with professional intrigue, as I identified the insights rugby offers into our world of leadership behaviour.
Writing in The Times after Argentina’s exit from the World Cup at the quarter-final stage, Stuart Barnes reflected on the statistics that were shown on television during the second half. Argentina “had made significantly more carries than Australia, they had crossed the gain line with more regularity” and had made more metres with the ball in hand than Australia – and yet they lost.
He went on to say “what a waste of time statistics are unless they are understood and appreciated”. Explaining the gap between the statistics and the results, he concluded that “it’s not so much what you do that matters in matches of this magnitude; it is where you do it”. These statistics, presented alone, do not tell the full story.
This is the same in the business world. Leaders are flooded with data from Management Information Systems that measure every aspect of performance. If you want to know the number of calls lost in contact centres every minute of the day - you can find that out. If you’re interested in how each sale impacts on the bottom line, you can find that out too. However, effective leaders know it’s how you apply that knowledge that counts. Using insights to make inspirational decisions is what marks out the agile leader from the merely knowledgeable one.
According to Barnes, “this World Cup was defined by brains.” Referring to the semi-final when New Zealand beat South Africa by just two points, he described “a game teetering long in the balance. The scales tipped the favourites’ way due to tactical nous from their management.”
‘Tactical nous’ is exactly what front footed leaders demonstrate every day. They know that brains are not enough. The habit of thinking on the move hones the capacity for quick decision-making, and makes agitating for the future the norm rather than the exception. Having the courage of your convictions, even when colleagues and competitors think you may have lost the plot, demonstrates your competitive edge: and it can lead, as the All Blacks found, to the biggest prize of all.
So what’s your World Cup? And what do you need to do to deliver it? Learn the hard lessons from England who crashed out of the tournament early. And don’t wait four more years to prove your worth.