Four Things All Great Leaders Have in Common

Rugby World Cup
(Image credit: Unknown)

1. Playing ability

They’ve got to be on the team sheet. It doesn't matter how good a leader they are, fundementally they have to be a great player. The rest of the players have to know that he’s in the team because he’s a great rugby player. For Johnno [Martin Johnson] that was a big tick, he was great at the game which enabled him to be great at leading. 

2. Trust

You’ve got to know that when you’re not in the room that they’re still delivering your message. Can you trust that they’re delivering the message when you’re not there? Leaders are proactive and inspire their team when it all falls down to them.

3. Role models

They’ve got to have the respect of the players. How are they living their lives? Not just in training or during your time together, but 24/7/365, are these real role model-type people?

4. Respect

You don’t have to be mates with your captain and sometimes it’s good not to be that close to them, but you have to have that bond and respect. You’ve got to look forward to having a cup of tea with them and they’ve got to be someone you get on with. You’ve got to be able to pick up the phone and jump up and down and shout off at him, and he’s got to be able to do the same with you. You’ve got to have that trust. And you’ve got to trust that if there is something he doesn’t like, he’ll pick up the phone and call you to tell you.

Why Martin Johnson was such a great leader

Martin Johnson is one of the toughest players we’ve ever seen and as a coach he’s a guy you want on your team. They always say when you’re tossing the coin, you want to have Martin tossing the coin. He’s a pretty intimidating person walking out of the changing room. He led by example but he wasn’t a big ego man. Behind the scenes he was always asking people, “What do you think?” That’s a big quality of any leader, listening to other people and then making a decision. Martin would probably be top of the tree just in playing terms – forget his captaincy and leadership skill, he was just a great player. I know he is England’s all-time best second row as a player. Add the captaincy and the leadership and he just becomes the best ever player. I felt lucky to have him in the team.

On lessons learned from business

I think the leadership is no different when running a rugby team from running a business. It’s all about people. Almost all of what I applied with England was learned from business. I had 16 years of experience in business, in Sydney with Xerox, a big multi-national, and with my own small leasing and finance company, which I ran for eight years before I became a professional coach. When I say it was small, we had ten people. There was no HR – it was just ten people in a room getting on with our jobs. A rugby team wasn’t that different except there are 40 or 50 people. It was up to us, no-one else was going to help us. One of the biggest things I learned from my business career was how to deal with people and make decisions. That was massive for me in putting the England team together.


(Image credit: Unknown)

On building a winning culture

We knew the 2003 World Cup was a chance of a lifetime. The players had the right coaching team, they had everything in place. And we couldn’t have people sitting there thinking, “I don’t agree with that” but be too scared to stand up and say it. It was quite an intimidating set-up if you’re, say, a Jonny Wilkinson coming into that – not all players are naturally confident. You have to get that out of them. I had to ask, “Jonny, what are you thinking? Daws, what are you thinking?” If they didn’t agree with something I expected them to stand up and say it. No-one was going to get penalised, the complete opposite. Some of the team meetings got quite lively, and I loved it. We had blood on the walls at times but to me that was fantastic because you knew we all wanted to win. The most important thing was when we walked out on the pitch we went out holding hands, as one.


(Image credit: Unknown)

Building Jerusalem, the story of the creation of England’s World Cup-winning team, is out on Blu-ray and DVD now

Sam Rider

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.