What can CEOs, boards and SLTs learn from Joe Schmidt?

Whatever happens on next Saturday at the Six Nations Ireland v England clash at The Aviva, Joe Schmidt will, according to many, retain the title of being one of the best rugby coaches in the world.

What, if anything, can CEOs, boards and senior leadership teams (SLTs) learn from his leadership behaviour?

The inspiration for this blog and this question comes from spending most of last week in the meeting rooms (corporate boxes) at The Aviva Stadium in Dublin, which overlook the pitch.

Over four days, I facilitated 1-1 meetings with the members of an operating board (senior leadership team) which has signed up for my #smallchange programme.

Below the meeting rooms, preparations were underway for the big game. I watched as the grass was cut, hosed and lamp treated. A labour of love.

I’m not a great fan of sporting and military models for behaviour in business. But I’m all for lessons we can learn from them.

Peter Pearson, former British Army Lieutenant General, with whom I sat on a panel on leadership at a conference last year, remarked dryly that “the bottom line in war is somewhat different from business.” Quite.

In respect of the former, while there are many lessons to be learned for example from Alex Ferguson, I would not encourage anyone to emulate his leadership style or some of his reported behaviour.

The motivating benefits of “hairdryer treatment” are greatly exaggerated. We all know CEOs who try it on and find that, ultimately, in business, it doesn’t work.

Clues as to Joe Schmidt’s leadership style emerge from the press coverage, especially a piece in The Irish Times (24 Jan).

On leadership: “We have a degree of hierarchy because we have a captain, a vice-captain, a leadership group but there’s no hierarchy in training or when it comes to people making good decisions”.

In my programme, I work with directors on unpacking their decision-making processes. How did we make that decision? Was it the best process? How can we change it for the better?

On planning: “They’ve got the firepower to be physical…we need to be ready for that” in response to Eddie Jones: “if you want to go to Ireland and get a win you’re going to have to deliver a brutality”. Note that word, “brutality”. Feck!

On a key element of success: “…integrate the new guys”.

Changes in personnel on boards and SLTs invariably change the group dynamics. I’m sure the process of “integration” on a rugby team is different than that on a board. But the need for a process remains the same. Often I see this need overlooked.

Clearly, Joe Schmidt has a fully thought through purpose, strategy and behaviour plan (PSB).

What’s not to like? 🙂

Ciarán

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