I spent a year working with legendary hockey coach Dr Ric Charlesworth in my first year as CEO of the Fremantle Football Club.
It was the end of the 2001 season. The club was financially destitute and had won only two games that year, losing the first 17 games, finishing last on the ladder. They had never finished higher than twelfth.
Suffice to say, the Dockers were about to go through a massive transition, requiring a full rebuild on and off the field, and with club President Rick Hart, I was tasked with leading this process.
As a CEO, at its most basic level, there are two fundamental but interrelated models you need to get into shape as quickly as possible:
- Profit Model
- Performance Model
Fremantle, in only its seventh year in the AFL, had built neither.
Ric had been appointed as a part-time high-performance consultant twelve months before I arrived in Perth from Melbourne (another transition). There are many reasons why the relationship did not extend beyond this period, but it was a tricky space for Ric with the club having three senior coaches during these two years, each with their own views and philosophies.
Even though this was a brief period period working together, as with most of the great coaches I have worked with, there are always wisdom and teachings that stay with you.
I was reminded of these when listening to Ric’s interview on a terrific new podcast “The Great Coaches”.
One of these was Ric’s view that coaches don’t change athletes; athletes change themselves. The coaches create the environment for this to happen, and the rest is up to them.
Even though he’d coached (14 years as a National coach) and played with some of the very best athletes (as well as being a five-time Olympian he was also a first-class cricketer, opening the batting for Western Australia for eight years), he would say:
“I’ve never met a player who couldn’t be better than they thought they could be”.
He would often speak of the need for candour in this relationship, built on clearly articulated standard:
“I will not treat you evenly, but I will treat you fairly, and always in the best interests of the team.”
A very high bar had now been set. There will be friction and conflict as there is a considerable amount of judgement and ambiguity in this objective. Athletes have a natural bias towards their performance and importance to the team.
It requires a capacity to deal with this friction, and again as Ric states ”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.”
In my experience, leaders in business often struggle with candour required to deal with friction and conflict. But you have no choice. If you are not up for this conversation, you are not up for leadership.
Leadership is not only about the standard you set, but the standard you walk past. You cannot have standards without candour, otherwise they are just your words.
As T.D Jakes said:
“Your words tell others what you think.”
“Your actions tell them what you believe”
The real issues of conforming and conflict avoidance will appear at the worst possible time, and by extension, you are creating a culture that will curtail the development of your people.
Error with then beget error, and those people with ambition and expectations, are the ones most likely to be frustrated by this environment, and they will leave.
In setting a standard, and an expectation of accountability, ask yourself, beyond your position title, have you ‘earned the right’ to hold people to account. The simple measure is your personal level of candour, an assessment only you can make.
I always enjoy the opportunity to talk all things culture and high-performance, and the development of leaders to achieve it.
Here are a few of ways to start the ball rolling:
- I like to share the ‘bruises’ of my lived leadership experiences as a 25 year CEO in the AFL with leaders as part of our Learning Leadership event for senior leaders. We have run this event for the past few years, and the feedback has been excellent. We have now transitioned the event online. There is no cost as we recognise that time allocated to learning is perhaps our most precious resource, and therefore we have also provided a number of dates from which to choose, 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.
- Download my book “More to the Game”. In this publication, I have combined my writings and drawings with the beautiful imagery of Michael Willson, the premier AFL photographer. It is free to download (no sign-ups) at “More to the Game – What leaders can learn from football”
You can also contact me at cameron@designCEO.com.au and let me know how you think we can work together.
CEO & Founder
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