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Those damn All Blacks!

Anyone who has been to New Zealand or met a Kiwi knows that rugby is all pervasive and all consuming to all blacks 2a country that is the size, roughly, of our State of Victoria. It is a bit like cricket to Indians – fanaticism in participation and support bordering on the religious. Make that beyond religious.

The All Blacks have built an imposing record as consistently the most successful team in the world. And they have always been great, and imposing. From the intimidating ‘haka’ that starts their games through to the superstars they have had in the team, they make winning look easy.

But it hasn’t always been so. In fact, only a little more than 10 years ago, the All Blacks had won only one World Cup and were considered ‘chokers’ in the big moments. What they did to turn that around is now part of sporting folklore but is also a great lesson for everyone from businesses through to sporting clubs looking for that edge and the ability to win the big moments. They went about creating and then living a simple set of values that they believed would reflect what the All Blacks jersey stood for. Sporting teams these days talk about these so called ‘trade marks‘ – knowing what you stand for and having zero tolerance for behaviours outside the values.

The first All Black value is based around the critical need for humility. Sweep the Sheds. It is the Captain’s job to make sure the change rooms are left as they found them. Yes, the Captain of the All Blacks will pick up a broom and do what some other teams think is the job of the cleaner. The enemy of success is hubris – this is a practical and real way to make sure the team has its feet on the ground.

The second value is ‘Follow the Spearhead’. This embodies their team ethic – a zero tolerance of poor attitude and behaviours. A team, moving together, succeeds. Also embodied in this value is the oft quoted All Black dictum of ‘no dickheads’, and any Kiwi can give you examples of highly talented individuals who didn’t get a game because of their attitude. The team is bigger than the individual.    

The third value is that ‘Champions do extra’ – a focus on continual improvement. In business this is often about striving to continue to develop and that is usually via learning and training. It is the one per cent gains that can make the difference.

The forth value is ‘Keep a blue head’ which is all about winning the big moments – being grounded and focused under pressure. It was thought that the kiwis were choking in important games because they were becoming nervous under pressure. In sporting terms, they were keeping a ‘red head’. The players learned how to consciously keep themselves in ‘flow’ when pressure was mounting – so they would have the confidence to execute their skills at critical moments. It is similar to the stories Mike Duff tells us about the incredible mind strength of Pete Sampras and how in the big moments he could have incredible clarity (and no doubts). With that came success.

The final value is ‘Leave the Jersey in a better place’. We all want to leave a legacy but for the All Blacks it is about honouring those who came before and those who will come after. There is no debate about whether or not these guys are role models – that is accepted.

So it is no surprise that the All Blacks won the recent World Cup. It maintains their astonishing winning record – 76% over 100 years, but even more amazingly, over 86% since they went about instilling a values based culture in their organisation.

The story of the All Blacks is more than interesting to me as it does show how values, when lived, can make a huge difference. And while people may be cynical about values, the reality is that if your values really represent what you stand for and how you want to be seen, they can be a powerful recipe for success. And for my local footy team, the poor old Saints, it must be a reminder of how we painfully lose the big moments and what we need to do to make sure we win them in future. Keep a blue head!


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