On Saturday I had the privilege of having a natter with James Kerr – an award-winning creative director, brand consultant and values implementation professional. He also happens to be a bestselling author, and the storyteller behind a remarkable book – “Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.”
In 2010, James was given an unbelievable opportunity – to go inside the All Blacks camp for 5 weeks, in their run up to the World Cup. The task immediately at hand for him and photo journalist Nick Danziger was to create “Mana”, a book that for the first time gave New Zealanders an inside look at the All Blacks in their journey towards reclaiming rugby’s grandest prize. But during his time there, living in close quarters, it’s no surprise that James became close to the team, befriended management, and quickly grasped how Sir Graham Henry was managing to reinvent what was already the world’s most statistically successful sports team. The result is “Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.”
We can learn a lot from the All Blacks. Their approach to the game can be successfully implemented in our own lives and businesses. This is because ultimately, James says, we all work in teams. Whether we’re a multinational team, a small business team, or a rugby team. This isn’t really a book about rugby, James insists. We’re not going to learn any rugby secrets here. This is a book about running a successful team – using one of the world’s most successful teams as a case study. It’s also the story of New Zealand, our people, and what makes us exceptional in many ways. It’s our “collective” approach to life, James says. He cites examples – things like Working Bees, and always bringing a slab to the BBQ. It could in part hark back to that pioneering spirit of travelling so far together on ships; in could in part be a rural thing. And importantly, it is an intrinsic part of our Maori and Pasifika cultural identity. The teachings of “Legacy” in many ways are our gift to the world.
“Legacy” offers us 15 lessons in leadership – straight from a team where there may be only one captain on the field, but there are fifteen leaders. One of the important factors in Sir Graham Henry’s strategy is about developing leaders off the field first and foremost. It’s about that sense of heritage and whakapapa; of “leaving the black jersey in a better place”, by paying respect and tribute to the ancestors (those All Blacks who have come before), and also being a great leader and role model for young rugby players, and those All Blacks yet to be born. All Blacks are never selected on form alone – they are selected as much on character, as anything else. And they have to fit in with the rest of the team. It’s all about the “We”, rather than the “Me”. Henry’s philosophy was that “better people make better All Blacks.” For this reason, it is possible that some New Zealand’s greatest rugby players on a practical level may never wear the black jersey, because form alone is not enough to make you an All Black. The All Blacks philosophy is that if you mix great form with great character, then over time you will develop and become the greatest and most successful kind of rugby player. Anyone can have a great season, but they won’t necessarily grow into the role of an All Black. How does this relate to business teams? We can hire the candidate with the best CV, but if they are not of the right character, and do not fit in, the team will crumble from within. People will leave. It’s about creating an environment where people are happy and you can subsequently get the best out of them.
Humility is another great lesson. In the All Blacks, this is indicative in “sweeping the sheds” – every player, Richie McCaw included – sweeps out the sheds and cleans up after themselves completely after the game.
Arguably the greatest lesson that All Blacks fans in particular are eager to learn, is how did Sir Graham Henry succeed in transforming the team from one that would often “choke” during the crucial final, to one that has just (on top of all else) completed the perfect year. James tells me that this can be credited to the “red head/blue head” approach, which addresses the mental aspect of the game, and was implemented during Henry’s reign. To avoid their minds getting into that dangerous “red” area, players each have strategies to keep a cool blue head, shut everything else out and focus on the process and on the moment entirely. Richie McCaw for example, stamps his feet to re-ground himself. The red-blue approach could also be successfully applied to business deadlines. James recalls how during that nail-biting World Cup final against France in 2011, most of New Zealand would have been in the red – there were only a few in the blue, and they were the guys dressed all in black.
Another key to overcoming the tendency to “choke”, is the importance of playing for something bigger than yourself. Henry believes that a team with a higher purpose creates a higher performance.
Whatever some may think, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. When Sir Graham Henry came to the All Blacks, despite their reputation of “choking” during World Cups, they were already statistically the world’s most successful team, with more than 75% wins over the past 100-year period. During his time with the team, Henry managed an 11% uplift on that. After the perfect season they’ve just had, the boys in black must now be over 90%.
“Legacy” is available in the United Kingdom to purchase online at Amazon, and in-store at some Waterstones, WH Smith and Foyles book stores. It will be released in New Zealand next year.