One of the most common questions I get asked is, “what was it that got you interested in leadership, what started your leadership journey and why?”
It might seem hard to believe, but my first experience, and what I believe to be one of my defining experiences happened when I was just ten years old, and it showed me what great leadership could achieve.
At this time I played for the school rugby team, we weren’t very good, in fact, we were ‘bang average’. Finishing mid-table with as many defeats as victories.
Surprisingly though, we had somehow managed to get through to the local cup final courtesy of an easy draw in which we only played those teams that we had beaten.
However, our luck was about to run out, because, in the final, we were to play a team that had won the league comfortably by a margin of 8 points.
Not only that but we had played twice previously and they had beaten us easily 15-0 in the first game and thrashed us 35-5 in the second game on their ground. As you can imagine our euphoria of reaching the final was now somewhat tempered, and our motivation and expectation somewhat lacking.
This is where great leadership kicked in and changed that.
Our coach told us that when it came to the final this game was different. He said we were a cup team, an unbeaten cup team, and that the league results didn’t matter, in fact, they were irrelevant.
He also said we had a big advantage over our opponents because the as league champions they expecting to win and to win easily. They thought they knew how we would play and that it would be like before and it would be an easy win for them.
But we were going to surprise them, we would be coming up with a new and different game plan, one that they wouldn’t expect, and that would give us a great opportunity to win.
For myself, I was given specific instructions, the coach told me that I wasn’t a creative player, but in this game, I was to be key. I was to be a destroyer, my job along with my partner would be to focus on one thing and one thing alone, and that was to stand opposite their star player and every time he got the ball to just absolutely flatten him. Nothing else was important, I was to just, as quickly as possible, cut down his space and stop him from playing, I was to reserve all my energy for just this one task.
The coach told me that I would have played a great game if, every time that player touched the ball I stopped him dead.
Others too were given specific instructions, it was all part of a collective game plan.
Right from the start of the game every player followed the instructions he had been given. For my part, I harried, hurried and tackled their star player every time he got anywhere near the ball. This was a complete surprise to our opponents, they were expecting an easy game and our approach knocked them out of their usual rhythm, it caused them to start to make some simple elementary mistakes. We scored early two early touchdowns, which not only spurred us on, but you could visibly see the other teams’ heads drop. We gave them no space, we didn’t let them play their game, we dictated the pace, we controlled everything.
Of course, they were the better team and as the game wore on and as we tired from our high energy approach, they started to get back into the game, they did score late on but it wasn’t enough and we managed to hold on and win 6-3.
This was a huge shock result.
What i learned from that was that, if you can take away doubt, build confidence, create a plan which the team believe in and get some early success, then the teams can actually achieve what previously thought to be beyond them.
This also taught me that it’s not always the best team that wins, sometimes it’s the best-prepared team.
And finally, when some things feel impossible it might just be the approach your using, so look at alternative approaches, don’t persist with approaches you know won’t succeed.
By the way, if you can guess which one is me in the photo I will send you an e-copy of FAST, just email your answer email@example.com