New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, are the most successful professional sports franchise in history.
They are undefeated in over 75% of their international matches over the last 100 years.
In his book “Legacy – What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life”, James Kerr details what it involves to develop an extraordinary high-performance culture and how to maintain it over time.
Kerr presents 15 lessons that explain how the All Blacks have nurtured and sustained peak performance, and what we can learn from them:
A rugby team has fifteen players who work together towards a common purpose, to win. These principles work in the same way. Each has a role, each a responsibility, each a position on the field. Combined they are the First XV.
I. Sweep the Sheds
Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done.
The All Blacks’ competitive advantage is their ability to attach players’ personal meaning to a higher purpose. In other words, service before self while leaving your organisation in a better place.
II. Go for the Gap
When you’re on top of your game, change your game.
Recognise opportunities for change and adaptation. Continuous improvement was able to lift the All Blacks to an even better win rate.
III. Play with Purpose
If you want higher performance, begin with a higher purpose. Better people make better All Blacks. Leaders connect personal meaning to a higher purpose to create beliefs and a sense of direction.
IV. Pass the Ball
Leaders create leaders.
Create a framework of meaning, a sense of purpose, belonging, teamwork and personal responsibility. Empower the individual by empowering them with the success of the team.
V. Create a Learning Environment
Leaders are teachers.
Improve 100 things by 1%. By finding the 100 things that can be done just 1% better, you achieve marginal gain. This creates an incremental and cumulative advantage in performance and results.
VI. No Dickheads
Follow the spearhead.
The strength of the wolf is the pack, the strength of the pack is the wolf. For the All Blacks, no one is bigger than the team. Everyone works together towards the same goal and no one is left behind.
VII. Embrace Expectations
Aim for the highest cloud.
Embrace expectations. Successful leaders have high internal benchmarks. They set their expectations high and try to exceed them.
VIII. Train to Win
Practise under pressure.
Practice with intensity to develop the mindset to win. This conditions the brain and body to perform under pressure and make peak performance automatic. Get out of your comfort zone. If you are not growing anywhere, you are not going anywhere.
IX. Keep a Blue Head
Control your attention.
The first stage of learning is silence; the second stage is listening. Know how to manage, deal and embrace pressure. Control your attention. Switch from ‘red head’ – tight-inhibited, result-oriented, anxious, aggressive, overcompensating, desperate; to ‘blue head’ – loose, expressive, at the moment, calm, clear, accurate, untasked.
X. Know Thyself
Keep it real.
Be genuine, stay true to yourself and be honest with your environment. Leaders need to create an environment that encourages safe-conflict, honesty and integrity, in which people genuinely know one another.
Find something you would die for and give your life to it.
Go above and beyond expectations for something you believe in. Champions go the extra mile. Bleed on the field and know that your teammates will do the same for you.
XII. Invent a Language
Sing your world into existence.
Core to the All Blacks’ language are three words: humility, excellence and respect. A language and set of beliefs can bind a group together. Leaders are storytellers.
XIII. Ritualize to Actualize
Create a culture.
Inspiring leaders establish rituals to connect their team to its core narrative. They use them to reflect, remind, reinforce and reignite their collective identity and purpose.
XIV. Be a Good Ancestor
Plant trees you’ll never see.
Great leaders take responsibility in making a better future. They ensure knowledge transfer, following the philosophy that “you are standing on the shoulders of giants – live up to that expectation and know that you will be looked upon as one.”
XV. Write Your Legacy
This is your time.
Be purposeful. Add to the ethos, make your mark.
When a player makes the All Blacks, they’re given a book. It’s a small black book, bound in fine leather and beautiful to hold.
The first page shows a jersey – that of the 1905 Originals, the team that began this long whakapapa. On the next page is another jersey, that of the 1924 Invincibles, and on the page after, another jersey, and another, and so on until the present day.
It is a visual whakapapa, layered with meaning, a legacy to step into. The next few pages of this All Blacks handbook remind you of the principles, the heroes, the values, the standards, the code of honour, the ethos and the character of the team.
The rest of the pages are blank. Waiting to be filled.
“It’s time to make your mark, they say. Your contribution. It’s time to leave a legacy. Your legacy. It’s your time.” – James Kerr
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