During the last decade, the leadership approach of Richie McCaw became almost legendary as he led the All Blacks to success after success. It was well known that he – the Captain – would sweep the dressing room floor to lay down a message; a message supported by an internal motto of “No D***heads”. These are nice storylines but are not the heart of the story about McCaw’s successful leadership style.
What set McCaw apart was the man himself – a leader and it is not something that can simply be taught. It comes from a mix of values and having a belief in something that is bigger than just the individual’s own needs. He understood that success for the All Blacks and NZ needed more than being about Richie McCaw. It is what many argue today has become increasingly rarely seen – finding those that do believe in something that is more than about their own self-interest. A recent report noted that 67% believe that in business that their CEOs only real interest is in their own position and success. Given this statistic, it is not hard to understand why so many feel disengaged.
Leading into the RWC Final of 2011 against France, McCaw was suffering from a broken foot. The team had already lost its three leading fly-halves, including the great Dan Carter and the loss of the Captain would have been a potentially fatal blow but how many would play maybe the biggest game of their lives with a broken foot? The injury that wasn’t common knowledge even within the group and it never entered McCaw’s mind to take the option that most others would – he had every intention of leading the team, ignoring the injury whatever the longer term consequences.
With twenty minutes to go and only one point separating the two teams Richie McCaw fell to the ground and the Physio came on asking if he needed to leave the field as his foot was broken. Richie looked at her as if she was mad and carried on.
Leadership involves many skills and the ability to think strategically, deliver presentations, deal with poor performance and just a good knowledge of human psychology are vitally important but when one breaks leadership down to its fundamental components and when leadership is really needed in those times of high pressure and everyone is starting to doubt themselves and are looking around for what to do, it doesn’t matter what the leader says it only matters what the leader does. At its very core leadership is about doing the right thing and leading by example. Failure as a leader often comes with personal failings and it is often something that we all have to learn from. It is rarely easy or pleasant but is a hard truth.
In those last twenty McCaw demonstrated courage, determination and a complete undeniable commitment to put the needs of the team ahead of his own. When the players looked around they saw these qualities in their leader and this gave them the strength to find the same qualities in themselves.
This is just one example of leadership in action. It is something that many want to see more – those that do believe in something more and placing their own self-interest to the side. In 2020, we saw a number of examples of CEOs from failed companies still taking large rewards which left many upset. We have seen many in the public sector received rewards that are high – and yet the public sector is supposed to be about different values and rewards. We have also seen the most aggressive periods in politics where few felt great respect or belief in the leadership options.
Many want to see better…want to see a belief in something bigger.