Did we stay calm?

by | Nov 11, 2019

Siya Kolisi became the first black South African captain to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy when the Springboks beat England 32-12 to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup last weekend.

A famous and historic win, and his country celebrates.

His post-game interview in the immediate aftermath was equally inspiring.

Just minutes after the game he says “A team like this, we come from different backgrounds and different races but came together with one goal and wanted to achieve it. I really hope we have done that for South Africa, to show that we can pull together.”

“We can achieve anything if we can work together as one.”

In that moment, Siya could be excused some personal indulgence, yet remains humble and fully present. While he appreciates his place in history, he understands the importance of the win for his country.

It is a victory bigger than himself and his team. They are the example their country can follow. As he speaks, he is not only leading his team, the world is watching, and he decides to lead his country.

He builds this narrative in the knowledge that he can well and truly back it up.

As TD Jakes said “Your words will tell others what you think. Your actions will tell them what you believe.”

His performance on the field have told us what he believes, he is now telling us what he thinks.

This is what resilient leadership looks like.

I have spent a lot of time studying and learning about resilience.

Conversations about resilience naturally focus on how we cope with adversity, but it is also our capacity to deal with our successes.

It is our clarity and rationality in the face of amplified situations, be it dealing with crisis or celebrating victory.

Dan Abrahams in his wonderful “The Sport Psych Podcast” interviews writer Ben Lyttleton about his terrific book ‘Edge: What Business Can Learn from Football’ and quotes Tim Harkness Head of Sports Science and Psychology at Chelsea FC, who defines resilience as:

“Accurately assessing threats and opportunities and allocating emotional resources accordingly”.

Sport is very good at reflecting on experiences both positive and negative, the wins and the losses, with the intention of gaining as much knowledge, insight and understanding from a learning perspective to assist the next time we are in similar circumstances, in most cases, the next game we play.

It builds habits and systems to achieve this. The game ‘post-mortem’ is an integral part of the process of growing, and we are always seeking ways to make it more effective so as to fast track learning.

Sport understands that resilience is learnable, and while some already have the implicit skills, for most they are learned. In some cases, the capacity to develop skills of resilience will be the difference between success and failure in many endeavours, individually and collectively.

One of the reasons Siya is so humble in this moment is that he has trained for it. His team’s success would come as no surprise to him, and he has a very deep well of personal and team experiences to prepare him for this moment.

A lot of the work I do with leaders at designCEO focuses on resilience, building the skills personally and organisationally to “allocate emotional resources accordingly” in both victory and defeat. 

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. Fortunately, I also had the opportunity of working with leaders and mentors who had built the requisite resilience to thrive in an often unforgiving environment.

I well remember former Adelaide Football Club Senior Coach (coincidently now High-Performance Manager of England Rugby), whom I worked with at the Melbourne Football Club, starting meetings when reviewing our responses during difficult and ambiguous situations by asking:

“Did we stay calm?”

He understood that unless we “allocated the appropriate emotional resources”, we had little chance of achieving anything close to an optimal outcome.

Image result for neil craig english rugby

Neil Craig, former AFL Coach and High-Performance Manager of England Rugby.

The question required us to reflect on our own responses and their likely impact on others in the decision-making group.

After completion of the analysis, we then ask:

“What have learned, and what would we do differently next time?”

They are simple questions but powerful. Remember, “it is the hard days that define us”, the times when we’re are most tested will provide the greatest insights, and the opportunities to learn resilience.

Siya Kolisi, you set a suburb example.

Well played.

A quote, a book and some inspiration… 

Dr Jen Frahm and I discuss the topic of resilience in her Podcast “Conversations of Change”. The feedback has been terrific.
Dr Jen’s comments were:
“I don’t often listen to my own podcasts multiple times. This one I have. The alignment with change and performance is a nuance not often discussed openly, and I think one that offers significant value. Cameron also offers a slightly different lens on resilience from the sporting world which is worth considering too.”
No alternative text description for this image
Book (& Quote) of the week…
A wise man said, ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’I understand the wisdom of this – right now, I don’t have much ‘forwards’ left.
-Neale Daniher
I have quoted Neale Daniher many times in my writing and speaking, and he has now written a book. I worked with Neale as CEO and Senior Coach at the Melbourne Football Club.
He sat down to pen a letter to the grandchildren he’ll never get to know. And then he kept on writing … In 2013, the AFL legend was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease – an incurable condition. He had a choice. He could spend his remaining time focused on himself, or he could seize the opportunity to make a better future for others.
I loved it, and ended up with pages of notes and learnings.
You will too.

I always enjoy the opportunity to talk all things culture and high-performance, and the development of leaders to achieve it.

Here are three ways to start the ball rolling:

  • I teach and coach an integrated leadership performance system utilising sophisticated learning models and systems garnered from elite team sport, ideal for leaders who are committed learners, who understand the responsibility of leadership. To learn more, please arrange your FOC 30-minute leadership telephone consult to discuss your personal, team or organisational challenges or aspirations, please use this link.
  • Participate in our next one-day Leadership Masterclass which I personally facilitate. It is a sophisticated, intimate and practical leadership intensive for aspirational leaders, both current and emerging. To learn more, and to register, please use this link.
  • Sign up for the “More to the Game” weekly email, and receive a copy of my “What business can learn from football” White Paper. The emails are short leadership reflections, no more than a couple of minutes to read and we will always treat our communication with respect. Please use this link.

You can also contact me at cameron@designCEO.com.au and let me know how you think we can work together.

Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder


Recent Posts


We are based at Work Club
Level 2, 287 Collins Street,
Melbourne, Vic. 3000.

Email: cameron@lambeau.com.au


+61(0)411 860 931