Only one player can kick the goal, but it is a team that scores it

These beautiful images were taken by Michael Willson, the award-winning AFL photographer. He has a great feel for the game. For more of his work

More to the game

“What leaders can learn from football”

Business often turns to the football codes when seeking to understand the key concepts of team, particularly, the role of leadership in terms of establishing a winning culture and executing a game plan.

While this analysis provides some important lessons, the learnings go far deeper.

Success in elite team sport cannot be achieved without an uncompromising attitude towards the recruitment and retention of talent, and of course integrated and sophisticated coaching (teaching) at an individual and team level.

The following bog posts explore the complexities, and often contradictions, of elite sport.

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There is always conflict out there, you just might not know it. If you do not deal with it, it will appear at the worst possible moment.

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Staying Calm

When faced with decisions in stressful and emotional times, allow yourself time to review your responses, starting with the question, “Did we stay calm?”

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In the arena

Viktor Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage (during difficult times).
Leadership provides us with the opportunity of achieving all three.

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We still had a lot of talking to do

About a dozen or so years after my grandfather died, I lost my father Alan. It was sudden and shocking. Dad is the most significant influence in my life. A quarter of a century later, I am four years older than Dad was when he died, and I still go to ring him. What I think about most are the conversations we never got to have. We still had a lot of talking to do.

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Who are you practising at being?

But we do not rise to the level of our ambition, we fall to the level of our capability, and leadership insight is critical. We will not achieve this understanding by “working harder”, it is achieved by “thinking harder”.

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Design beats discipline

Discipline, like goals, is overrated. It is likely to help in the short term, but is unlikely to be a long-term solution. Motivation wanes for many reasons, human nature takes over, and momentum is lost.

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Turning knowledge into wisdom

To be a teacher, you must be a learner, the mindset to embrace the discomfort and ambiguity of taking yourself beyond the limits of your understanding, but with the view “It is not what I learn today, it is what I will teach tomorrow that is important”.

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Did we stay calm?

Many of my personal learnings in relation to resilience come from my lived experience as a CEO of AFL clubs. This was a test I failed often, tough lessons learned when dealing with the ups and downs, often with an inappropriate allocation of emotional resources.

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What is a club in any case?

It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at the hallowed stretch of turf beneath him, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.

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The long goodbye

‘‘I spent my whole life gripping a baseball, and in the end I found out that all along it was the other way around.’’ – Jim Bouton

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We are better for having lost

For me, the most interesting people seem to have the bumpiest pasts. I prefer to connect with someone who has experienced the struggles, battles and casualties of life’s journey. There is beauty, wisdom, and truth to be found in the scars.

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What truly matters

I can say with certainty that I made many of my worst choices as a leader when I lost touch with “what truly matters”. I cannot remember making a good decision when my thoughts were clouded by anger, fear or ego, and it happened often enough that I reflect with a sense of shame.

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Kevin is decent

After many hours I finished the drawing, but it remained on my easel for a number of weeks. Whilst it was a decent drawing of a friendly man whose face told his story, it said nothing about how the world mostly judged him.

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Curiosity vs Certainty, Growers vs Arrivers

Having spent a lifetime in the game, I learned that some people are into growing, but most people are only interested in arrival. The ‘arrival’ people create all the commotion that distracts from the critical work of the ‘growers’, who are playing a much bigger and far more important game, energised by all its possibilities, and significantly, not overwhelmed by its ambiguity.

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The Example You Set

A winning organisation is an environment of personal and professional development, in which each individual takes responsibility and shares ownership, knowing better people make better leaders and leaders create leaders.

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BE more to DO more

But leadership is not a DO thing, it is a BE thing. The moment you are accountable to, responsible for, and ultimately dependent on, the performance of people other than yourself, it stops being a DO thing.

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Leadership is Hard

Often you are struggling and do not know where to get help without showing weakness. There is also the vulnerability of ‘not-knowing’, that sense of uncertainty, unsure of whether you have what it takes to turn-it-around, personally and organisationally.

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When it’s all said and done

The man speaking to them is very familiar to everyone in the room. He is their old coach, and while few of the young Demons played under him, he is for those few precious minutes, again their coach and mentor.

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What crap are you putting up with?

So ask yourself, are you matching the values you talk to, with the standards you model, and are you prepared to call people out for behaviours outside of these expectations, regardless of who they are, be it status or ‘technical’ performance?

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What business can learn from football

I use the metaphor, stories and decision making frameworks from high-performance team sport, specifically AFL, as a means of teaching and coaching leaders and their teams. I feel confident to do so because it is my background - my 30 year lived experience. I do not...

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In the back. You’re joking.

The photo also hung proudly in the Committee Room of the Punt Road Oval, the inner sanctum of the Richmond Football Club, together with the most important club symbols and memorabilia, almost in defiance of the umpire’s decision on the day.

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Find a creative space

‘Going deep’ is fundamental to the notion of ‘progressive wisdom’. It requires contemplation and self-reflection, some personal kindness and self-compassion, but it also doesn’t come for free and doesn’t happen automatically.

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Make the best mistakes you’ve ever made

With each iteration and each unsuccessful effort to produce a drawing I was satisfied with, I rubbed them out, but not completely, layering up until the final picture emerged, using the mistakes of the previous effort as a guide to the next attempt.

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Everybody needs a hero

There is most likely something on your mind now that you need to resolve, but it is not only the complexity and ambiguity of the issue that can overwhelm, but your growing sense of isolation.

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Don’t Copy Culture

As a CEO in the AFL, forever focused on building a high-performance culture, I spent years visiting these great clubs, looking for the ‘secret sauce’. 

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It is the hard days that define us

These are the mornings when you wake up knowing that regardless of what happened on the weekend, and no matter how bad the defeat, and while you may be bereft of ideas and inspiration, sleepless night and all – you still had to lead.

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Allan Jeans

Allan Jeans was never a dreamer, he was way too pragmatic for that, but clearly understood that he had the capacity to make or break dreams, and that often proved a heavy burden.

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Alan Schwab

My father Alan died 24 years ago this week. This is a photo of my father in the player race of the Punt Road Oval with Hall of Fame Coach Tom Hafey.

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