A little piece of information was brought to my attention recently regarding a comment from Sir Clive Woodward after the England v Italy rugby match. I didn’t see it live but have since been sent a video of him not being able to remember my name when he was referring to a 6 Nations match back in 2003. I have to say I was a little disappointed, but I have a thick enough skin (no jokes please!) to not be bothered by it too much. However, it did make me reflect on my own leadership style, it made me think about the great leaders I have worked under and above all, it reminded me how important great leadership is in order to impact the performance of others in a positive way.
Now that I am working as a team and leadership coach, it has given me an opportunity to write down my thoughts on a few of the characteristics needed to be a great leader and hopefully these will resonate with you in your own careers.

I look at all the different articles and opinions about what makes a great leader and there is an overwhelming consensus that great leaders show empathy, they show that they care about their employees and ultimately, they make these employees feel like they are truly part of that team. Do they forget names? Of course, they do. But the difference is whether that mistake is genuine.
Imagine my surprise when one of my CEO’s turned up at my house to check how things were, only to then play a small game of cricket with my oldest son. He wanted to know about us, he wanted to hear how things were going and I felt that he had our best interests at heart. I know this is definitely not possible at the majority of places of work, but he knew that in order for me to function as the best rugby player I could be, he wanted to take away any potential stresses and strains that would have an impact. Looking back, those moments to talk away from the ‘office’, although quite minor at the time, had a massive impact for my family in feeling appreciated and it certainly made a difference.

This is twofold. It is just as much about leaders having confidence in themselves, as it is having confidence in their workforce. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, so there must be an essence of humility thrown in. Leaders obviously need to show everyone that they are knowledgeable, and that they can actually do the job, but they must also be able to show everyone they can be vulnerable, that they can make mistakes and they are happy to ask for help. Give people a platform to make mistakes without blame, and you can be sure their productivity will be higher.
Looking back to times during my England career, I didn’t always feel like I belonged and aside from the usual nerves of being around some of the greatest players in the world, there was always a piece of me that questioned whether the coaches really had complete faith in my ability. Did they have confidence in me? Based on some of my after-match reviews, I’m not so sure! If leaders assume there is greatness in everybody, then you’ll never know how far they can go.

Researchers such as Gottman and Goleman (2002) spent decades studying what contributes to successful relationships in marriages and organisations and one of the main characteristics of these is having a ratio of at least 5:1 of positive to negative interactions.
I can’t tell you how many times during my career where the team has received the ‘hair dryer treatment’ for losing a match at the weekend. The stress on the players faces as they walked in to training on Monday morning said it all, and it was the same old story of wondering what emotional state the coaches would be in that day.
However, it wasn’t until I arrived at Saracens before I really saw the value of being relentlessly positive. If you had asked any visitor that sat through a Monday team review session whether the team had won or lost on the previous Saturday, they wouldn’t have been able to give you a clear answer. Thankfully it was not that often, but even if we had lost, the messages were always positive. The players left the meeting room in a better state than when they arrived, and I have no doubt that this continues to make a positive impact at the club.

Just as it is important for leaders to be able to sell the organisation’s vision, it is also key to be able to create meaningful dialogue with those around them. In doing so, they open up the opportunity to share ideas, to allow people to be creative, and to get everyone working in the same direction.
Unfortunately, there are many places where people don’t openly share ideas of information, due to a number of reasons.
 When one party dominates conversation
 The risk of looking foolish
 The environment isn’t culturally safe to do so.
If leaders can help to overcome these things, then the environment becomes a better place to work and collaborate.

Finally, it is important for great leaders to model their leadership style in the way they behave each day. Don’t expect someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself and if you have a series of organisational values, then stick to them. They are not simply a code to be looked at on the wall, or an email to be read. People need to see the value in behaving in a certain way, a system of meaning or a common language and it is the leaders that have the most important job in making people see what is important.

Leave a Reply