Martin Johnson & Andy Nicol: Leadership lessons from the Six Nations

Martin Johnson & Andy Nicol: Leadership lessons from the Six Nations

If you missed our exclusive Livestream with ABSTRACT’s resident Calcutta Cup winning captains Martin Johnson and Andy Nicol, don’t worry, you can watch it here. It’s a must see for rugby fans and business execs alike, with plenty of insider insights about leadership on – and off – the pitch.

To whet your appetite for the main event, here are six key leadership lessons Andy and Jonno gained from the Six Nations.

France had a secret weapon that took them from mere competence to Grand Slam glory.

After years of underwhelming performances, France came into the competition looking like the real deal. They’d put longstanding motivational issues and internal problems behind them. So what changed?

Top-quality coaching from Shaun Edwards, in Andy and Martin’s view. His ability to motivate his players behind the scenes inspired international calibre performances across the board, even from the lesser know players in the squad.

The same is true in business, we’ve seen it again and again. Leaders who are inspirational coaches have the capability to unlock better than best performances from everyone around them.

Don’t build a team around a few star players. Make the team the star.

As Martin points out, England’s strategy seemed to rely on a handful of exceptional players. However, this left them vulnerable. When injury forced Many Tuilagi to withdraw from the team, a hole was left in the squad that couldn’t be filled.

If you’re reliant on a sprinkling of key players to get you the results you need, you’re going to come unstuck. As important as recruiting the best talent is, at the end of the day it’s the way your people work together that matters the most. If you can create real synergy, your team will always be greater than the sum of its parts.

Leaders need to take a cool look at events.

Martin Johnson will rewatch a match days after the fact, when his emotions have had a chance to cool down. This is where he’ll often gain key insights on strategy. As he explains, the euphoria in the stadium when Scotland won against England was overwhelming. The fans were over the moon, and saw great things ahead. However, when he reflected on the performance later, it became clear that England’s attack had been weak, leaving Scotland’s back line untested. And sure enough, in the next few weeks, Scotland suffered defeats from three strong teams.

Great leadership requires that ability to step back, and analyse past performance in the cold light of day. Even (and especially) when things have gone well. Because often, that’s where you’ll find the key insights you need to adapt and strengthen your strategy.

Strong role models are more important than written rules and regulations.

When players join an established team, they aren’t necessarily going to go and read the company rule book. They’re more likely to look around, and see what more experienced hands are doing, and then model that behaviour.

Take the Scottish team. Their published code of conduct stated they shouldn’t go out drinking during the run up to matches. But sure enough, several players were spotted out and about, and social media went berserk. Were the players in the wrong? Or were the club’s rules overly draconian? Well, we’ll leave that to the social media mobs to decide.

For Martin and Andy, it comes down to trust. Would you trust the people in your team to do the things you need them to? If you work with people you can truly rely on, you shouldn’t have to worry about what they’ll get up to in their free time. After all, who hasn’t been tempted to blow off steam when dealing with a high-pressure work situation? If you set too many rules, you’ll paint yourself into a corner eventually.

It’s far better to lead by example, and role model how you’d expect others to behave. Because a living, breathing demonstration of the best way to do things is always more effective than a book on a shelf.

You’ll learn more from a poor performance than an ‘easy’ win.

During the France v Wales match, France looked visibly rattled by the Welsh defence. However, they dug deep, and got the win. They didn’t play at their best, but when the chips were down, they fell back on their training, and did enough to beat a tough side.

It wasn’t pretty, but it meant France remained unbeaten, and that was what really mattered.

Ultimately, a leader will learn a lot more on those difficult days than they will when things are going great. And a great leader will take those lessons, and use them to craft even greater results in the future.

Poor leadership will sink everything.

England had the biggest budget of all the teams in the Six Nations, and plenty of great players to call on. But none of that mattered, because right now they lack great management.

If leadership isn’t at its best, you can pump all the money and talent in the world into a situation, but the only result you’re ever going to get is disjointed play, and squandered opportunities. A great team always starts with a great manager.

If you’re looking to strengthen your leadership, and create a Grand Slam worthy team of your own, then get in touch with ABSTRACT.

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