by | Jul 19, 2020

In times like these, we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I spend my life talking about leadership, my lived experience. Thirty years in professional sport in the AFL. Almost 25 of those years as CEO of iconic, celebrated and ambitious sporting clubs.

Football writer Greg Baum described this world with wonderful acuity.

‘In season, a football club exists in a state of nervous tension, a 24-hours-a-day dwelling on the next match, relieved only in the two hours of playing it. It means that for all their outward robustness, they are also moody and delicate places, susceptible as a barometer to the pressures that surround them.’

In an industry where opinions are many – mostly proffered with the wisdom of hindsight, or little accountability for outcomes – you’re often reminded of the times you got it wrong. This is inevitable when faced with the ambiguity of attempting to predict an unknown an unknowable future, and a scoreboard that ultimately defines success and failure.

But these are not my reflections. In my quiet moments, I don’t think about the judgement calls, the getting it right, the getting it wrong.

My reflections are the times when I was unable to raise myself to the core expectations of leadership.

When the role required me to be brave, and I wasn’t. My timidity often known only to me. An unsettling feeling that sits just under your diaphragm. Out of reach. It won’t budge, no matter how many times I seek to justify my actions to myself, but mostly to others, as though their opinion of me matters more than my assessment of self. There were spaces I should have stepped into, conversations to be had, but I allowed the moment to slide by. That feeling in my gut is still there sometimes decades later. I feel it as I pen these words.

…to be brave.

When the title I held, and responsibilities and expectations that came with it, were best served with humility, but my delicate ego wouldn’t allow it. A need to present myself with confidence and belief, and perhaps just a touch of ruthlessness, as the person with all the answers. A hard man, often defensive and combative, but mostly overcompensating for the inner feelings of doubt and fear that I would force back inside of me, buried.

…to be humble.

When our best chance of producing the most beneficial outcome was to remain calm, modelled by the leaders themselves. People like me, who enjoyed the status of leadership, but did not honour it, unable to rise to the level of emotional clarity and lucidity the situation required. I personalised the situation when self-control was required and expected. In an environment of strong personalities and anxieties, often under pressure, anger was the default emotion redefined as competitiveness, a chorus that I often led, and by doing so guaranteed something much less than the optimal response.

…to be calm.

You cannot lead through control. As counterintuitive as it might seem, to gain influence, you must surrender control.

Three goals for leaders…

  1. To be brave.
  2. To be humble.
  3. To be calm.

In moments like these, we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

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 and let me know how you think we can work together.

Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder


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