Leadership Lessons from the Lions


A year ago, a good mate of mine raised the idea of travelling over east to watch the British and Irish Lions rugby test matches. “They only come here every 12 years, we’re both be turning 50, how about it?”

And so, last Saturday saw me cheering along with 84,000 others in the deciding 3rd test at the ANZ Stadium (where the 2000 Olympics was held) as the Lions clinched their first series win in 16 years with some stunning second half tries. A week earlier we’d been at Etihad in Melbourne where the Wallabies took the match with a well worked try 6 minutes from time.

Rugby is a hard physical game. Players put their bodies on the line, literally. The players out there on Saturday did their all, and left nothing back in the changing rooms. It was brutal stuff, and you could hear the clash of bodies and bones in the tackles and mauls.

For the deciding game the Lions coach took the brave (and correct) decision to drop a living legend of the game, Brian O’Driscoll. The Lions captain was also going to miss the game through injury, so this was a big call. The coach took a lot of flak before the game, yet refused to gloat afterwards. His replacements teamed up superbly and broke through the Wallabies lines to score three tries in a spell-binding ten minute period which blew the game open. After the game the coach congratulated his team, and hugged O’Driscoll. Smiles all round.

At halftime, with the Wallabies having just scored a wonderful try to get back within striking distance, the Lions team talk focused on getting their bodies to deliver even more effort, to push through the barrier. During the second half as some of them were subbed off and replaced with fresher legs, you could see the exhaustion etched across their faces.

Earlier in the day we found ourselves in the same hotel lobby as the Wallabies team. The Wallabies captain wandered by signing autographs. He had been cleared to play (twice) after TV footage caught him stamping on a Lions player’s face in the first test. Whenever he touched the ball all game he was booed by a portion of the crowd. Some even booed him as he walked up to give his concession speech after the game, yet he drew applause with a perfectly-delivered homage to the victorious Lions, praising their fans and thanking his own team and fans for their effort.

Leaders get others to do things they thought not possible. They make the tough calls. They lead by example. They can communicate effectively.

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