Stuart Lancaster, Senior Coach at Leinster Rugby and previously Head Coach at England Rugby, delivered a masterclass in leadership and management this week at IIBN’s second ever virtual event.

People joined in from the United Kingdom, New York, Dubai, Budapest, Moscow and several counties in Ireland. Afterwards, I recorded a summary video with my key takeaways.

Summary Video Here

Takeaway 1: Have a plan!

Stuart has always had a plan. However, the plan isn’t just about winning but also for the team to have respect, consistency, culture and identity. I liken this to watching the KPIs of a business while also being aware of the “subconscious” of the company too.

He went on to give us this formula:

Culture -> Identity -> Higher purpose -> Behaviour and Standards -> Ownership -> Player Led Leadership

Takeaway 2: Win for the here and now while also building for the future.

While you must focus on what’s going on in the minutes, hours and days ahead, it’s also very important to look much further into the future. This reminded me of the dichotomy of leadership well-articulated in the “Good to Great” classic book on leadership. Specifically, Stuart says that you need to manage with a “telescope and microscope”. What an analogy!

Takeaway 3: Understand that culture comes before performance and not the other way around.

Stuart points out the importance of the leader driving and sustaining the culture. He says the more aligned a team is, the less time it takes to build a culture. He then explained that culture needs to move out in concentric circles to the backroom team and all other stakeholders. Again, we take a lot out of that in terms of business.

Des, asked

“How much does it help to understand a country’s culture when playing a country’s rugby team?

Stuart says it makes all the difference when trying to defeat the team as you can understand why they do certain things. The parallel for us in business is that it can be hugely beneficial to understand a company’s culture while selling to them.

Karl asked

“How do you adapt to a culture when you step into one?

Stuart answered with “Ask good questions”. He said that he was curious about the homegrown system in Ireland, the history of Ireland, where the players went to university, the relationship they had with their siblings etc. Questions will lead you to understanding the culture.

Takeaway 4: Build your identity

Stuart was a teacher in the early part of his career. He was puzzled why so many teaching seminars focused on the how and what but didn’t focus on why people chose to become teachers. He didn’t make the same mistake! He told us that he reached out the players’ mothers one time and asked them to write a letter expressing what it meant for them to have an international player as a son. This was presented to the players on a certificate with a view to reminding them of their identify.  What a powerful thing to do!

Takeaway 5: Be a good leader

Stuart gave us the following characteristics of a good leader:

Elma asked

“how do you get a sense of the mood in the camp?”

Stuart emphatically answered that you must get out from behind the laptop and on to the “factory floor”. That could be the gym, the canteen or the pitch. Further, ensure that you have good communication channels with the other people who spend a lot of time on that factory floor. He said to get ahead of the curve to see around the corner.

Takeaway 6: Develop talent through your leadership

Stuart then elaborated on how to develop leadership talent within your team. He gave guidance on this by suggesting:

Keith asked:

During this period when you can’t physically bring everybody together, have you given the team any mental homework?

Stuart said that it’s important to keep your voice in their heads. He put together a short movie for the players taking them on a journey of their past, present and future. They need to stay inspired and motivated. He is staying in their heads.

Takeaway 7: Follow management principles (and manage in the correct proportion to leading)

Stuart shares his key tenets of management practices including:

Ronan asked

how do you handle the ambiguity of stakeholders? In a team’s management, there may be several people striving to lead and manage?

Stuart answered that absolute clarity of roles and responsibilities are key. The private conversations are critical. It must be clear who makes the final call and who communicates it.

Takeaway 8: Embed accountability into your organisation

Don’t wait for people to grow by accident. Hold yourself accountable. Hold others accountable. Cultivate the environment where they hold each other accountable.

“When all is else is equal, cohesion is king”.

Takeaway 9: Change is required for high performance

Stuart gave the analogy of a performance clock. If peak performance is at 12 o’clock, some are at 6 o’clock. Some are at 9 o’clock and you need to get them to 10 o’clock. Some are at 12 o’clock and you must keep them there. If you put everybody together, as you do in a team, how do you move higher and higher and then stay there? The answer is change. You need to make changes before they’re needed. Make small tweaks that can make big changes in individual and team performance.

Takeaway 10: Use failure as a school for success

If you learn from what goes wrong, it’s a raw form of data to consider what can go right.

Stuart also told us about a powerful piece of blunt advice he got from an Australian colleague regarding moving on to a new opportunity which was:

“Make sure you 100% want to go and that you’re 100% welcome when you get there”.

Takeaway 11: Ensure that you can quiet your mind

It’s vital to be able to be very calm in high pressure situations. There isn’t the space for negative feedback loops, heightened tension and chaos at high performance. You must be able to quiet your mind, find calm in the big moments and be completely on task.

Emer asked

what do you say to a team at half time if they’re losing the game?

Stuart said the first thing to understand that emotions are high at that point. The metaphorical emotional cup is at 100% and you need to reduce that down. Let the emotion simmer down and have a couple of key private conversations. As there is more space of objective logic, align everybody again and share two very clear things that the team can focus on for the second half of the game.

Manus asked

how do you stay true to your principles when everything is going wrong?

Stuart recommends to quiet your mind. Stay focused and on task. He reiterates that you need to be calm in the big moments.

Takeaway 12: You need to juggle three glass balls very well

In life, you have your health, your family and your work. They are three glass balls. Drop one or more and they can shatter. Juggle them with care and with the importance they deserve.


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