England against France in the quarter finals of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Expectations high after France’s dismal performance against Tonga, so what happened? I believe English sport has yet to learn some real leadership lessons that are applicable to business as much as they are sport.
The first one I call leadership and it is interesting in several perspectives when it comes to this performance. The coach was one of the best on field leaders English Rugby has produced. Martin Johnson was a true leader someone with presence who commanded respect from his players. He is still a character who is held in high regard within rugby circles and it is perhaps his presence that has had a debilitating effect on the development of pitch leadership. Leadership has to be present at every level within a team and players need to know when to follow and when to lead. There was a distinct absence of leadership on the pitch that disastrous match.
I saw a lack of passion amongst the England players that certainly was not evident amongst the French. Passion is inspired by vision; a vision of victory that drives belief and frees up players. It is key to an outstanding performance and that belief belonged to France on that day. I saw little evidence of the emotion and passion from the English team before, during and after the game which I believe was caused by their lack of belief.
For me sport is about dynamism it is about seizing the initiative and making your opponents react. For when they are reacting they are not focusing on their game and therefore not able to seize the initiative. England became predictable. England lacked that dynamism as they were constantly reacting to the French and therefore unable to play their game. They were predictable ball out to Tuilagi and let him break through. He never did.
Pressure played its part as it caused some crucial mistakes in terms of decisions and handling errors. England lost several opportunities to score as because of such errors. Good leadership and mental toughness ensure that control is exercised in all areas of the game. I believe from the evidence in front of me that desperation came into England’s game. Players must learn to handle international pressure through experiencing similar pressure in other environments!
Selection is always going to be controversial and it is here that I believe Martin Johnson needs to learn the Alex Ferguson lesson of knowing when to let players go and when to blood new talent. I believe despite the arrival of Tuilagi, Lawes and Youngs this side was picked too much on sentiment and old allegiances. Every boss needs to know how and when to nurture talent and when to let it go. For me Wilkinson, Moody and Tindall had gone a tournament too far.
Self control comes from self awareness and self control is key to team cohesiveness and victory. If each member of a team maintains that control and awareness they maintain their role in the team at that moment, if they lose control then the team begins to disintegrate. The second French try is a perfect example three players to one French attacker leaving an unmarked player and a gap for the try. Self awareness and team awareness in terms of what is my role for the team now are essential in international sport one error can be fatal.
My last comment is flexibility if something is not working there is no point in pursuing it. If you do what you always do you will get the result you always got. Match tactics and plans have got to be adaptable to the situation players have to understand several options if a team is to have the inherent flexibility to win major tournaments. I thought England were one dimensional and that was the power dimension. When they came up against an equally powerful team they had nowhere to go.
So the key lessons for me for Rugby are:
Develop leadership at all levels,
Develop a winning vision,
Maintain the initiative,
Understand and minimise the impact of pressure,
Learn when to let go of players,
Develop player self awareness and role awareness
These are all lessons that are as applicable to business as they are sport and I believe the English Rugby Football Union needs to take a good hard look at its leadership development throughout the game. I have jsu watched the Australian team defeat South Africa and what leadership there was on the pitch from Pocock and Horwil!l