Aside from performing a tactical masterclass last Saturday in winning the Rugby World Cup, South Africa’s coach Rassie Erasmus also taught us some lessons about leadership that apply equally in business, suggests Joe Gill.
Amid failings, shortcomings and disappointment, it is possible toconstruct a dramatic recovery in a relatively short period of time.
It is just two years since Mr Erasmus took over the Boks at a time when their on-field performance and off-field morale were at a serious low. Combined with the unfolding severe challenges facing South Africa, itself, suggested the nation’s team was incapable of getting back to the heights of world rugby.
However, that is exactly whathappened with a squad of players that largely were in place at that time of crisis.
Their captain, Siya Kolisi, explained after the weekend final that a key moment in the team’s success was during the first meeting Mr Erasmus had with the squad. He identified an over zealous interest in ego and social media as being red flags regarding the team’s attitude.
Instead of focusing on their own reputation off-field he suggested they revert to what they were good at — playing rugby — and working hard as a team to compete and succeed.
In business, I have often come across companies that are suffering from poor performance because of weak leadership that allow otherwise strong performing managers and employees to stray.
Poor decision making, a laxattitude to work and cynicism can quickly spread, undermining acompany’s behaviour and ultimate performance.
Often, too, these businesses start looking to the external world toexplain their woes.
It’s a changing market, competition or economic headwinds that are laid out as reasons for another year of disappointment.
This narrative is often corrosive and self-serving for owners andmanagers who simply are not good enough for their roles.
It can be very difficult to change these as some have powerfulpositions and others are equity owners who can stand in the way of fundamental change.
I am sure before Mr Erasmus took over the South African team, there were voices explaining that it was the wider geo-political and social crisis in their home country that was the key causal factor in their on-field failures.
That’s a convenient excuse forindividuals who crave power over performance.
What is most telling is the speed at which clear leadership and decision making converts into a teamperformance that makes the whole better that the sum of its parts.
Within two years, South Africa has not only won the southern hemisphere championship but also conquered world rugby, beating both Wales and England in the semi final and final.
In the corporate world, the level of transparent accountability is found at its highest in the public equity markets. Obligations to publish detailed financial results and the scrutiny of both investment analysts and fund managers make it hard to hide.
A succession of poor results ratchets up pressure and requires strong reactions from board members and executives, alike.
This is why you will see a lot of churn among management teamsin North America and European stock market-listed companies asinvestors, analysts and directors hold management to account.
That process can be more opaque among private companies. Long established owners and tight relationships with their managers can make change hard to implement when performance disappoints.
Nonetheless, it is always worthy to examine your own business with the same scrutiny as if it were a public listed entity.
By doing so you can initiate change that pivots a business to better times.
Leaving things fester risks the fate of South African rugby in 2017. Fixing it, by changing theleadership, can bring just rewards.
Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.