On Monday I attended the FA Coaches’ Conference at the FA’s headquarters at St. George’s Park. The keynote speaker that day was not a football coach, or even anyone connected with football. It was Stuart Lancaster, the head coach of the England rugby union team. In a very candid session Stuart shared 30 lessons in leadership and developing a winning culture that he’d identified since his appointment in March 2012. I’ve summarized them down to these 8 lessons for you to consider:

  1. Have a goal beyond winning. When England won the rugby world cup in 2003 the whole focus of the coach, Sir Clive Woodward, and the team, led by Martin Johnson, was on winning the trophy. Once that goal had been achieved the momentum of the team rapidly evaporated and subsequent results declined. Stuart has set a goal of becoming the world’s most respected sports team. This goal is very ambitious – perhaps even unachievable – but if England are successful at next year’s World Cup, it will only be a milestone on the journey to a bigger goal, not the end in itself.
  2. Work back from the goal. Invest your time on the right things that will best accelerate and sustain the delivery of the goal. Do not become sidetracked with activities that do not really help you achieve your ambition.
  3. The culture and DNA of the team come before performance. Do you have a clear idea of the culture you want to create? Once you are clear, what are the steps you need to take to implement and sustain it? Critically, if it comes to a trade-off between high performance and the right character within the members of your team, select on character.
  4. Get the right support team in place – and give them responsibility and accountability. Stuart spent a significant amount of time and effort persuading Andy Farrell to become a full time member of the coaching staff, and refused to take no for an answer.
  5. Your credibility is key. Stuart believes that you can measure your credibility on a 100-point scale. He believes his initial credibility with the team was about 20, because, although he had been head coach of junior English teams and was previously Director of Rugby at Leeds Carnegie, Stuart had never played the game at the highest level. Over time, however, you can build your credibility by demonstrating integrity, inspiration, forward thinking, technical excellence and being organized. Conversely, even with a high initial score, your credibility can decline if you fail to demonstrate these attributes.
  6. Help the players to find their voice. Following conversations with Michael Carrick and Gary Neville Stuart was surprised that footballers do not contribute much during team meetings. The culture of rugby, he believes, is different, and players are encouraged to voice their ideas and opinions.
  7. The leader’s job is to shape the environment. You cannot make all the decisions and take all the actions to reach your goal, but you are responsible for building the environment in which your team can make that happen.
  8. Focus on the WHY first. Too many leaders focus on the what and the how of the job in hand, but Stuart’s focus has been to connect his team with WHY it’s so important and such a privilege to be a player of the England rugby team. This means being clear about what the white English shirt, with its red rose badge, stand for, its heritage and its connection with both fans and the wider nation.

Which of these 8 lessons can you apply to your team as you develop your plans and priorities for 2014?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.