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Lessons on Inspirational Leadership from Sean Fitzpatrick

I am often asked to reflect on my experience as captain of the All Blacks rugby team and give my top tips for what makes a great leader. I am also often asked the born or bred question – can leaders really be developed or are great leaders just exceptional individuals who are naturally able to inspire people to follow them? I’m not so sure about the answer to the born or bred question and I think probably “a bit of both” sounds like a sensible answer. What I do know is that from my 11 years experience of playing with the greatest rugby team in the world there are some simple lessons that I found useful and that worked for me.

  1. Never take your place for granted As the leader of the team you need to recognize that you are not indispensable and you have to earn your place as leader – week in and week out.This principle applies to the team as well. In the All Black teams I have been part of we were more often than not the winning team but we never took our place for granted. We always prepared as if we were the number 2 choice for our position because we knew the dangers of complacency.
  2. Be an inspirational player The leader’s responsibility is to inspire the team to perform at a higher level – to maximise the performance of everyone to win and achieve the goals set.As an All Black on the pitch I had to wear two hats – that of leader and that of hooker. I had a responsibility to play, and to be excellent in my role. I quickly understood that this could inspire the team to perform to a higher level. My experience showed me that inspiration is contagious and it unleashes the potential of self and others. Inspiration energises the whole team to deliver results and to outperform the competition.
  3. Judge yourself only against the World’s best. When leading the team the leader must judge the results of the team against the very best there is. I’m a firm believer that you get what you focus on. Expect high standards and you get high standards. Only expecting the best can we ever achieve performance of the very highest level.
  4. Harness the fear of failureA large part of my success has, I am quite certain, come from my fear of failure. I have always wanted to be the best and in the All Blacks we foster a mentality of winning being everything. We aim to win every game. As simple as that. None of this “taking part” nonsense. The top performers are able to harness their fear of failure to train harder and longer and then perform to a higher level. In short they channel their fear to make them even better.
  5. Have the best attitude. Work hard! In the All Blacks we work to a principle of “you never take off the shirt” meaning that it is a 24/7 job and that we are proud to be part of such a fantastic organisation. Really successful leaders adopt this mentality – they adopt the same principles and values at work that they do at home. They want to work hard and to be authentic in how they do it and they never, never compromise what is important.
  6. Lead from the front. More than anything I always knew that was right.

New Zealand’s Sean Fitzpatrick is one of the giants of international rugby holding the world record for playing in 63 consecutive Test matches and being the world’s most capped hooker. His extraordinary international career began with his debut for the All Blacks in 1986 against France. He was appointed captain of the All Blacks in 1992 and played in 121 international matches, including 92 Test matches, a New Zealand record. Fitzpatrick also holds the record for most Test matches as an All Black captain (51) and has played in more Test match victories (74) than any other player. He played his 92nd and last international on November 29, 1997.

Since retiring from rugby Sean has taken his ethos from the rugby field into the Boardroom. He quickly saw that winning organisations in sport and business share many of the same principles and so he founded whatwecanbe.com, through which Sean now works with business leaders across the world identifying and instilling these principles into business organisations. Carrie FitzGerald and Bluebrick Consulting are allied to whatwecanbe.com, working on a learning and development programme (Balls 2 Business) where Sean’s experience of leading and playing in the All Blacks is used in facilitated workshops to help business managers reconsider how they lead and manage teams in order to get top business performance. Put simply, the programme “uses sporting excellence to invigorate business thinking”.

Contact Bluebrick Consulting on info@bluebrick.consulting for more information.